COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Businesses were closed, teachers absent and public transportation interrupted as Sri Lankans heeded a call for a general strike Thursday to pressure the president to step down over a growing economic and political crisis.
Business districts in the capital, Colombo, were closed, and bankers, teachers and other professionals held parades and joined the main protest site opposite the president’s office where demonstrators have gathered for weeks. Doctors and nurses said they would support the strike with demonstrations during their lunch break.
Workers on vital tea and rubber plantations and in garment factories also protested.
Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy with huge foreign debts and a lack of foreign currency, causing shortages of essential imported goods such as fuel, food and medicine.
Doctors have warned of catastrophic shortages of medicines and equipment in hospitals.
Indonesia on Thursday announced a donation of $1.6 million in medicines and hospital equipment, Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said.
Protesters who have crowded the streets since March hold President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family — who have dominated nearly every aspect of life in Sri Lanka for most of the last 20 years — responsible for the crisis.
Sri Lanka earlier suspended repayment of its foreign debts, $7 billion of which was due this year. It has foreign reserves of less than $1 billion. The resulting shortages of imported essentials have forced people to stand in lines for hours to buy limited stocks.
Government officials have blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic for the debt crisis and say they have been discussing rescue plans and loan repayment with the International Monetary Fund, China and others.
Rajapaksa reshuffled his Cabinet and offered a unity government in an attempt to quell the protests, but opposition parties refused to join a government headed by the Rajapaksa brothers. The weak, divided opposition has been unable to form a majority and take control of Parliament on its own.