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Members of Toronto’s Sri Lankan community rally in Scarborough against the country’s president

Dozens of members of Toronto’s Sri Lankan community protested in Scarborough on Saturday, calling on the country’s president to step down.

Protesters gathered on the sidewalk near the intersection of Ellesmere and Markham roads, waving flags, holding signs and shouting slogans. Drivers blew horns as they passed signs with slogans such as “Let’s defeat the oppressive government” and “That’s enough.”

The Scarborough rally is in solidarity with protests held in Sri Lanka in recent weeks, where thousands have demonstrated against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government.

Those protesters accused Rajapaksa of mismanagement in the country’s worst economic crisis since it gained independence from the British Empire in 1948.

“The country has no gas, no milk, no fuel, no electricity. People are suffering,” said Alex Fernando, a Toronto resident who attended the Scarborough rally. “[President Rajapaksa] the country was destroyed. He needs to get out. “

Months of shortage

For months, Sri Lankans stood in long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which came from abroad and were paid for with hard money. The fuel shortage resulted in a constant power outage that lasted several hours a day.

The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, riddled with $ 25 billion in U.S. foreign debt over the next five years – nearly $ 7 billion of which is due this year alone – and dwindling foreign reserves. Talks with the International Monetary Fund are expected later this month, and the government will turn to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.

Much of the anger expressed by weeks of growing protests was directed at Rajapaksa and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who led an influential clan that has been in power for almost all of the past two decades.

Five other family members were lawmakers, three of whom resigned as ministers on Sunday.

Another protester at the rally on Saturday said anger at the president extends to ethnic and religious lines.

“We encourage the Rajapaksa family to step down and let the Sri Lankans decide what they want,” they said. “The whole country has one voice now: get down and go home.”

Rajapaska, who was elected in 2019, has remained steadfast in refusing to resign, even as most of his cabinet quit and loyal lawmakers rebelled, narrowing the path for him to find a way as his team prepares to negotiate. arrangement with international lending institutions.

Rajapaksa had earlier proposed the creation of a unity government following the resignations of the cabinet, but the main opposition party rejected the idea.