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Protests intensify in Sri Lanka

Economic woes fuel dissatisfaction with the government


Nuns protest the economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday. Associated Press/Photo by Eranga Jayawardena

Protests intensify in Sri Lanka

Hundreds of priests and nuns on Wednesday joined protesters on the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital city of Colombo. Several held up signs that read, “Stop hoodwinking the public” and “Silence betrays the country.”

“How could people be so insensitive when people are crying out for basic human needs?” the Rev. Cecil Joy Perera said. “This insensitivity must be crushed.”

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic downturn since its independence, fueling frustration with the ruling class. Protests are widespread: Hundreds have gathered this month in spontaneous demonstrations from Colombo to beachside towns in the south. On Monday, protesters stormed the homes and offices of the ruling party lawmakers.

Sri Lankans have suffered months of food and fuel shortages, long queues to buy fuel, and daily power cuts of eight hours or more. The government said the pandemic cost the economy $14 billion over the past two years. The country’s foreign reserves shrunk to $1.9 billion in March as the government tried to clear off some of its growing foreign debt. The combination has left the country unable to pay for imported goods.

The hardship sparked anger against the political dynasty and calls for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down. Rajapaksa’s older brother serves as prime minister, while about five other family members hold ministerial positions in the government.

Rajapaksa revoked a state of emergency declared last week but has insisted he won’t step down. He proposed a unity government to handle the crisis, but the leading opposition party rejected the recommendation. His entire Cabinet besides the prime minister resigned on Sunday. The stalemate has sparked concerns of worsening unrest as many now believe the ruling party has lost its mandate to lead. 

“People are not going to settle for anything other than them all leaving,” Chantal Cooke, a protester in Colombo, said. “They want all of them out.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, on Sunday

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, on Sunday Associated Press/Photo by Petr David Josek

World Radar

  • HUNGARY: Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán secured his fourth consecutive term in office this week in a landslide win. Orbán, who has held power for 12 years, faces criticism from the European Union of growing authoritarianism over his media crackdown, court appointments, and constitutional revisions. He garnered renewed attention in recent weeks during the Ukraine invasion. Hungary has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees since the war began, but Orbán refused to allow the weapons and military aid heading for Ukraine to pass through Hungarian territory.

  • COSTA RICA: Right-wing former finance minister and economist Rodrigo Chaves clinched a surprise victory in the presidential election. The former World Bank official campaigned on promises to shake up the political elite and pledged to address unemployment and the country’s high budget deficit. More than 40 percent of eligible voters did not participate in the election.

  • BURKINA FASO: Ten gunmen kidnapped Sister Suellen Tennyson, an 83-year-old American nun, in a Monday night attack on a parish in the country’s east. Tennyson has been serving in the Catholic Diocese of Kaya since October 2014. Sister Ann Lacour, the U.S. congregational leader of Tennyson’s religious order, said the kidnappers have not contacted them.

  • SUDAN: The international criminal court this week began the landmark trial of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, the commander of Sudan’s infamous Janjaweed militia. He faces 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in the Darfur region between August 2003 and April 2004.

  • HONG KONG: Executive leader Carrie Lam this week said she would not seek a second term. Her turbulent first five years saw large-scale pro-democracy protests and the implementation of Beijing’s repressive national security law, among other crackdowns. Lam is set to leave office on June 30. Her likely successor is Chief Secretary John Lee, who was a senior security official during the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

  • NIGERIA: The Rev. Daniel Mbaya, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria—founded in the restive northeast—has said insurgent attacks and killings have shut down more than 170 of its congregations. Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province, have continued to operate in the region.

  • KENYA: For this week’s lighter dive, check out a BBC report on a Kenyan restaurant that provides work opportunities for the deaf.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) and his wife Jeannette Kagame light the flame of remembrance at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda on Thursday.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) and his wife Jeannette Kagame light the flame of remembrance at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda on Thursday. Associated Press/Photo by Muhizi Olivier

Africa brief

Thursday marked the 28th anniversary of the start of Kwibuka—the remembrance of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that saw majority Hutus kill more than 800,000 people mostly from the Tutsi tribe in 100 days. Rwandan President Paul Kagame laid a wreath at a memorial site in the capital, Kigali. The Health Ministry also deployed more than 80,000 health workers to counsel trauma victims across all districts.

Nadine Umutoni, a Tutsi survivor, told Canada’s Global News how her familial connection and loss led her to start a coffee company.


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks

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