We share some information collected in the international media (RFI, BBC) but also from militant sources (Asia Under-secretariat of the AIT, AsiaCommune, social networks contacts, …) of what happened on Saturday July 9 Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, popular uprising day.
The general situation is catastrophic
With the Covid, tourism – the country’s main foreign currency earner – came to a sudden halt. The country, which is an island, is heavily dependent on imports for many products, including energy, fertilizers and pesticides. In the absence of foreign currency, the country is unable to find dollars to finance essential imports.
On the agricultural level (agriculture represents 12% of the country’s production, not counting the food processing industries), the country had announced that it would switch to 100% organic farming in April 2021 (both to reduce dependence on imports in the context of the scarcity of foreign currencies and also to try to position themselves on the profitable organic market on the world market). This brutal transition, in the absence of organic (i.e. animal: manure, slurry) fertilizer of substitution, led to a disaster: nothing grew, a third of the land was abandoned. 6 months later, the government had to back down. But for lack of foreign currency anyway, fertilizers [which by the way for lye and nitrogen come from Russia and Belarus, and the price has skyrocketing with the war …] and phytosanitary products are still not available. As a result, the country is on the verge of starvation.
No more oil or fuel, no more diesel, no more gasoline, 80% inflation for food and daily necessities. 3 to 6 hours of power cuts per day.
According to forecasters, 5 million people (out of country’s 22 million inhabitants) will run out of food… The government has granted civil servants one day off with pay per week so that they can tend to their vegetable gardens in order to fight famine, but all city dwellers do not have land or a garden to cultivate. And fertilizers are imported and overpriced, so yields are very low!
A big part of the foreign currency is also captured by the People’s Republic of China led by the Communist Party of China, which has taken over Sri Lanka’s logistics infrastructure, dangling to the corrupt former government at all levels (such as the Chinese communist regime) investments within the framework of the « new silk roads ». In fact, loans at exorbitant rates have strangled Sri Lanka’s economy. For lack of reimbursement, the People’s Republic of China demanded and obtained control of the port of Colombo, a bit like the British had done for Hong Kong in their time… (by the way, by building the port, they destroyed everything the marine ecosystem of local fishermen) Due to fraud and corruption, many products passing through the port escape customs duties, which contributes to reducing the necessary foreign exchange earnings.
Due to the crisis which is becoming critical, violent demonstrations in May 2022 (9 dead and 139 injured) force Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign. Yet the protests continue and social anger has been rumbling everywhere for months…
The hartal (general strike) of July 8
Since this spring, social movements explode regularly. Workers, including health workers and postal workers at the Colombo National Hospital, have called a spontaneous strike to take a stand against the government’s actions.
Massive protests have taken place across Sri Lanka over the past month demanding the resignation of the President and his government and an end to the social catastrophe facing workers due to rising prices, power outages prolonged current, shortages of essential commodities, including fuel, medicines and basic commodities and foodstuffs.
Again, a hartal (general strike) was called this Friday, July 8 to paralyze the economy. Millions of workers went on strike across the island, including in free zones, hospitals, schools, public administration and transport. The strike was particularly significant as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists all united around their common class interests as workers across ethnic and religious lines. For decades, especially in times of crisis, politicians in Colombo have fomented anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim chauvinism and orchestrated racial incitement and massacres to divide workers against each other.
Government, political parties, unions, all united against popular anger
The general strike and strong support for the hartal alarmed the entire political establishment, including ruling and opposition parties, as well as trade unions.
Friday evening, July 8, President Rajapaksa, who already has the broad powers of an executive presidency, imposed a state of emergency to mobilize the army, impose curfews and censorship, carry out arbitrary arrests and prohibit strikes and demonstrations.
As the government prepared to mobilize the army, the unions called off an indefinite general strike that was due to start on Wednesday July 13. Instead, they limited it to lunchtime worker protests. By destabilizing the working class, the unions encouraged a beleaguered government to act and repress. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, yesterday rallied hundreds of supporters of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party (SLPPJMU). Many of them arrived by bus from other parts of the island to his official residence in central Colombo. After a deliberately provocative speech, they were armed with truncheons and sticks and sent to beat protesters first outside the Prime Minister’s house and then about a kilometer away in Kalimugath. Despite being armed with tear gas and water cannons, the police did nothing to stop the thugs until the occupation in Kallimugath ended.
What the Rajapaksa brothers had not anticipated was the angry response from a wide range of people willing to defy curfew and security forces. When the scale of the opposition became apparent, Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister and dissolved the cabinet.
The course of the events of July 8 and 9, 2022 : from General Strike to Insurrection
On July 08, the Inter-University Union of Students came to Colombo, the country’s capital, in a huge procession and the police blocked their way to the president’s house and attacked them with water and tear gas. They protested from there and lit up the night from there.
Fearing this, the oppressive government imposed a police curfew in all areas leading into Colombo from 9 p.m. on Friday July 8 until further notice.
But the angry population largely ignored this measure anyway. Masses of people spontaneously decided to converge on the capital. For example, our companions from Sri Lanka took part in the procession which covered on foot the 22 km separating their place of residence from the capital Colombo. Elsewhere crowds of demonstrators forced railway authorities to take them by train to Colombo on Saturday morning to demonstrate. Even though the country is almost out of gas and had to close schools, other protesters have also rented private buses to travel to the capital.
By minibus, requisitioned train or on foot, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators converged from everywhere to arrive in the capital.
A large group of police and soldiers on alert on duty set up roadblocks to prevent them from approaching the presidential palace.
When the population was ready to lift the roadblocks, the police fired tear gas and water cannons. Several times the police attacked us with tear gas and water.
The demonstrators broke through the roadblocks with great effort and then entered the President’s House. Police or army opened fire at the time and so far 57 people have been injured and taken to Colombo General Hospital. The condition of three of them is serious. Among the injured are 5 women.
Even as the people entered the presidential palace, the President fled. People were still waiting at the presidential palace. The people demand the resignation of the president and the prime minister. The President informed the President that he is ready to resign and will do so on the 13th. He has been informed that the Prime Minister is ready to resign after the formation of a new government. The Prime Minister’s private house was also occupied by the population. The office of the president was also occupied by the people. Demonstrations are still taking place in all these places.
POLITICIANS’ ATTEMPTS TO TAKE BACK CONTROL
President Rajapaksa has now called on all parliamentary parties in government and opposition to form a « national unity government » to deal with the country’s unprecedented economic and political crisis. The country faces a severe currency crisis. It has very little funds to buy imports, including fuel, and has declared a « temporary default » on its huge external debt. The International Monetary Fund has insisted on strict austerity conditions for emergency rescue loans. These will further aggravate the social crisis facing workers. The entire political establishment in Colombo, including opposition parties, trade unions, business representatives and media commentators, hopes to form an interim or national unity or multi-party government, seeking to find a way to dissolve or crush the protests of workers, youth and rural people.
ABOUT BLACK FLAGS
Some people noticed black flags in the crowd occupying the presidential palace and wondered if it had any political significance. In fact, it is very common to use the color black to protest in South Asia, even religious groups do the same when protesting against something, so we cannot say acutely the presence of an anarchist organization . But it is clear that the protest is not led by a group or a political party, but it is the people in general who are in action.
Source: RFI, BBC, Asia IWA-AIT secretariat, contacts in Sri Lanka
July 12, 2022:
Sri Lankan border police officers refuse to let the resigning president go. The finance minister and his family who were trying to flee are forced to turn back from the airport after protests from passengers and airport workers
Google translation to be refined of a press release from the association of emigration and immigration control officers:
Immigration officials told Gota [resigning president] to come to Polime – and prevent him from going to Dubai,
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa arrived at Katunayake airport today to depart for Dubai after announcing he would step down from his post as people took to the streets against the president.
Today, he had to face an unimaginable misfortune in his life. This is because immigration officials refused to stamp his exit in his passport. The airport immigration officers told him to report to the exit control counter with his ticket and passport as well as his boarding pass.
President Gotabhaya Rajapakse refused [to follow the ordinary procedure], wanting to board the plane as soon as possible. So he sent [his passport] through another officer, and the immigration officials refused to stamp it.
Along with this situation, the President missed the flight to Dubai and the President was immediately taken to Katunayake Air Base.
In addition, 6 seats were reserved in the name of Basil Rohana Rajapaksa [of the same clan as the president, and former finance minister] on the Emirates flight this morning and he and his entourage had to turn back due to the objections of passengers from the Emirates. airport and immigration officials.
As soon as this incident happened, Gotabhaya, who was nervous, shouted. Our greetings to you courageous sons of Sri Lanka.