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General strike intensifies pressure for Sri Lanka's president to quit

SRI LANKANS staged a general strike today to increase pressure on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign over a growing economic and political crisis.

Businesses were closed, teachers absent and public transport disrupted as educators and other professionals – even bankers – held parades and joined the main protest site opposite the president’s office, where demonstrators have gathered for weeks.

Doctors and nurses supported the strike with demonstrations during their lunch breaks.

Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy, with huge foreign debts and a shortage of foreign currency causing shortages of imported essential goods including fuel and food.

Protesters, who have thronged the streets since March 31, hold President 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.

Earlier, the government suspended foreign debt repayments, $7 billion (£5.9bn) of which was due this year. Its foreign exchange reserves are down to less than $1bn (£8.4bn).

This has led to shortages of imported essentials such as fuel, cooking gas, medicine and milk, with people queueing for hours to buy what stocks are still available.

Government officials have blamed the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic for the debt crisis and say that they have been discussing rescue plans and loan repayment with the International Monetary Fund, Chinese officials and others.

Mr Rajapaksa reshuffled his cabinet and offered to form a unity government in an attempt to quell protests, but opposition parties have refused to join an administration headed by the president and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The weak and divided opposition has been unable to muster a majority and take control of parliament on its own.

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