Protesters take to Auckland streets over Sri Lanka crisis

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

A state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka as violent protests broke out over the economic crisis that has been dubbed the worst in decades.

For weeks now Sri Lankans have faced severe shortages of food, fuel, gas, and medicine, with the cost of essential goods skyrocketing and day-long power cuts.

Families 1News spoke to in New Zealand worried for their loved ones back home in Sri Lanka, describing the situation there as “a sinking ship”. On Sunday, hundreds took to the streets to speak out against what they are calling an injustice.

On the corner of an intersection in Auckland’s Mount Wellington, people gathered with signs reading “#gotagohome”, demanding the Sri Lankan President quit and for international recognition and governments to step in and help the worsening situation.

“The situation in Sri Lanka is not good at all and for a couple of weeks there’s no power, no electricity, People who are working can’t do their work because there’s no power,” says one of the organisers of the demonstration, Yasasi Gunarathne.

Others have told 1News surgeries have had to stop due to power cuts and baby formula and critical medications have run out in the shops as people have been queuing for days at petrol stations to get fuel and gas. Many of those petrol stations are now armed with military personnel.

Gunarathne said as the currency continues to depreciate the government is not stepping in to help its people. Instead, she said they were taking away their freedom of speech by imposing a curfew after protests on Thursday turned violent, thousands taking to the streets of Colombo, burning cars and clashing with police who used water cannons and tear gas in response.

More than 50 people have been arrested and in a bid to stop more demonstrations, people have been prohibited from travelling, and social media sites have also been blocked.

“We need the freedom of speech, freedom of expressing and freedom of protesting we need it back in our country,” Gunarathne said.

Other demonstrators on Sunday said, “the current administration has become the worst administration which is full of corruption. It is due to corruption that innocent Sri Lankans have to suffer”.

The island nation of 22 million people is battling its worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948. The government has been seeking financial support from the International Monetary Fund as the country’s currency has deeply devalued over the past few weeks, leading to a sharp increase in inflation.

The country, which relies heavily on tourism, has also been crippled by the Covid-19 pandemic, but while that’s adding to the current crisis, many are blaming the situation on the mismanagement by successive governments.

“We want the world to know what’s happening back in Sri Lanka. We want people to know that one family ruling it is all wrong. We need our motherland to be safe and we need our motherland to be the same again,” Gunarathne said.

Some demonstrators had a message for families back home, “you guys deserve better. Although we are in New Zealand, we cannot forget our roots and we are with you guys”.

Gunarathne said the community will be handing a petition with thousands of signatures to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week in hopes the Government can provide any sort of assistance.