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Lanka crisis: PM Mahinda Rajapaksa offers to hold talks with protesting youths

Lanka crisis: PM Mahinda Rajapaksa offers to hold talks with protesting youths
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Colombo: Amid rising protests in Sri Lanka over the unprecedented economic crisis, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday offered to hold talks with the agitators who are demanding resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and all members of his family from the government.

The protests entered its fifth day on Wednesday and since it began on Saturday, it was carried out round-the-clock by youths demanding a total transformation of the "corrupt political culture", which they claim has been prevailing in the island nation since it gained Independence from Britain in 1948.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, Rajapaksa is willing to hold discussions with the protesting youths who are camping at Galle Face esplanade located near President Gotabaya's secretariat.

The prime minister has said if the protestors are ready for talks, he would extend an invitation for their representatives to meet for discussions, the statement noted.

The youths are demanding that President Gotabaya and his entire family -- who are all part of the government -- should quit, while their alleged ill-gotten wealth be brought back to the country to pay the debt.

Prime Minister Mahinda is the elder brother of President Gotabaya. Basil, the youngest, was holding the finance portfolio till he was sacked earlier this month by the president amidst the economic crisis. The eldest brother, Chamal, controls the agriculture ministry and nephew Namal is the sports minister.

The protest campaign has been running on social media, urging youths to gather at Galle Face. Besides, there have been continuing protests across the island, blaming the government for its mishandling of the forex crisis which led to severe shortages of essentials.

President Gotabaya who got his ministers to resign as a response to public dissatisfaction failed to win support for his call on the Opposition parties to join a unity Cabinet.

The main Opposition, meanwhile, announced that its leader Sajith Premadasa has signed three motions which would soon be tabled in Parliament -- a motion of no trust, an impeachment motion against President Gotabaya and a motion to repeal 20 amendments which had given him absolute power as president in 2020.

Maithripala Sirisena, the former president and a member of the ruling partner Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), told reporters Tuesday night that they would no longer attend political talks with the government.

They had proposed an 11-point plan, including the formation of an all-party interim government, to overcome the current political impasse.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from the UK in 1948. People have been protesting for weeks over lengthy power cuts and shortage of fuel, food and other daily essentials.

President Gotabaya has defended his government's actions, saying the foreign exchange crisis was not his making and the economic downturn was largely pandemic driven by the island nation's tourism revenue and inward remittances waning.

Saddled with a huge forex crisis, Sri Lanka on Tuesday suspended servicing external public debt pending the completion of its discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the preparation of a comprehensive debt restructuring programme covering the obligations.

The policy shall be in effect for all international bonds, all bilateral loans excluding swaps between the Central Bank and a foreign central bank, all loans with commercial banks and institutional lenders, the Finance Ministry has said.

In a televised address to the nation On Monday, Prime Minister Mahinda, who is under growing pressure to quit, said he understands the people's sufferings.

We have to strengthen the economy. We will take the responsibility to resolve the economic issue in the same way we ended the 30-year war, he had said, referring to his military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.

The LTTE, which led a separatist war for a separate Tamil homeland, was crushed by the Lankan military in 2009 with the death of its supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Mahinda had said the government is working round-the-clock to overcome the economic crisis. He appealed to the protesters to end their anti-government agitation and said that every minute spent on streets deprives the country of dollar inflow.

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