'No Way Out': Struggling Sri Lankans Face Uncertain Future
Protests have been escalating in Sri Lanka for months
"It is a situation of life and death here. No jobs, no money to buy food nor a way out from the country," said Shanthi, a 50-year-old single mother who lives just outside the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
She and her children were part of the protest that unfolded on July 9, the same day the nation's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to step down after tens of thousands stormed the presidential palace in Colombo demanding his resignation.
"We could not sleep during the nights," told Shanthi to DW. "This is the worst we have witnessed so far in my life. I cannot even afford to pay my monthly rent."
Shanthi has been trying to get her and her three children through the current economic turmoil. Like many Sri Lankans, she is uncertain about the future.
"I wanted my son to go abroad and work," she said. "But we could not even get a passport. The government system is not working. My son has studied motor mechanics. But he has no job. We tried every which way to get him one. But no one is ready to provide jobs. My daughter luckily got work. But she is paid a low salary."
She is also worried about her younger daughter, who is still at high school. Most of the schools and institutions are shut, and with very few classes happening, she is forced to walk 10 kilometers (6 miles) twice a week to attend tuition. Shanthi says there is no public transport available, and her daughter has no internet or reliable electricity to study from home.
Five days to get five liters of fuel
The July 9 protest was the outcome of an economic meltdown that has triggered an acute shortages of fuel, food, and other necessities.
"There is no fuel available to run my auto-rickshaw," said Mohammed Jafreen, a driver living in Wellampitya, near Colombo. "I must wait in queue for straight four days and could get fuel only on the fifth day. And a liter of petrol costs around 490 Sri Lankan rupees (€1.33)."
Jafreen added that they used to cook food with gas, then were forced to get a kerosene stove, and now his family of seven have no option but to cook food with firewood.
Jafreen, who has four children, is the only earning member of his family. "We used to eat three times a day. Now we could only afford to eat twice," he told DW.
Even when Jafreen manages to get fuel and take his vehicle out, few people are prepared to pay for an auto-rickshaw ride. He says it has never been this difficult for him to earn money.
"We do not have any reserves left and this is because of the pure mismanagement of the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa," added Krishnaswamy Harendran, a local journalist in Colombo. "People walked miles together to make the protests happen. The resignation of the officials is the temporary victory."
The last Rajapaksa resigns
Though protests had been ongoing for several months, the situation escalated when tens of thousands of people marched on the palace on Saturday. Troops fired in the air, trying to prevent angry crowds from overrunning the presidential palace, but the protesters eventually broke through.
Images released on social media showed enraged protesters breaking barricades and setting fires to official homes. Afterwards, videos from various broadcasters showed the protestors using the gym, swimming pool, and the kitchen in the palace.
The storming came exactly two months after former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, triggering countrywide violence between pro and anti-government groups that left nine dead and several injured.
This weekend, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to have been escorted from the palace for his own safety, and his whereabouts are currently unknown. But local media said on Sunday that the president was back in action and had ordered officials to expedite gas distribution.
Sri Lankans swimming in the presidential pool on Sunday morning
'Compelled to act'
The Saturday protests saw the public storming the three most important locations in Colombo. Apart from the Presidential Palace, there were attacks on the prime minister's private residence, and the Presidential Secretariat, where the president works.
"People had to break the resistance of police, special task force and the army," social activist Chameera Dedduwage told DW. "It is an outcome of the people who are deprived of their basic necessities and compelled to live without aspirations."
"The people of Sri Lanka have completely lost their trust in Gotabaya Rajapaksa," he said. "They see him as a betrayer. All we want is none of the Rajapaksas to remain in the government and every one of them should be brought to justice for their crimes. Especially financial crimes."
"Gotabaya did not resign yet," he added. "And we are not sure if he will really."
Sri Lankans took over the presidential gym on Sunday morning
Wikremesinghe was only appointed in May and is also currently handling the Finance Ministry.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the International Monetary Fund is hoping for a resolution to Sri Lanka's political turmoil that will allow a resumption of talks for a bailout package.
Sri Lanka is currently suffering its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948.
The country defaulted on its foreign debt in April, and its 22 million people have suffered months of surging inflation and lengthy power cuts after the government ran out of foreign currency to import essential goods, such as food, fuel, and medicine.
"We need our peace back. We need our lives back," said Shanthi, who is hoping that her country will go back to normalcy someday. "Most importantly I want my children to have a better life."
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