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Sri Lanka seeks IMF bailout amid shortages, rising public anger

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has called on Sri Lankans to use fuel and electricity sparingly. But citizens blame his government for the country's worst economic crisis since independence almost 75 years ago.

Opposition protests near the president's office in Sri Lanka, March 15, 2022.

There has been widespread outrage over spiraling costs in Sri Lanka, including major protests in Colombo earlier this week

Sri Lanka will seek an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, the country's president said on Wednesday, just 24 hours after a huge crowd stormed his office over runaway prices.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said his government was in discussions with the IMF, other agencies and countries on deferring loan repayments. He also asked citizens to help by limiting electricity and fuel consumption with the South East Asian nation in the throes of its worst economic crisis since it gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Although the issue dates back well beyond the conflict in Ukraine, rising fuel prices have exacerbated the situation in recent weeks.

Watch video 01:39

Ukraine war worsens Sri Lanka economic crisis

President seeks understanding

"Subsequent to my discussions with the International Monetary Fund, I have decided to work with them," Rajapaksa said in an address to the nation.

"By limiting the use of fuel and electricity as much as possible, the citizens, too, can extend their support to the country at this time," Rajapaksa added.

"I hope that you will understand the responsibility lies with you at this challenging time," he added.

Mass protests

Political parties and citizen groups don't see it as their responsibility, though, launching mass protests across the country, blaming the government for the economic crunch. For critics of the influential Rajapaksa family, having the president's elder brother, Mahinda, as prime minister and his younger brother, Basil, as finance minister only deepens a sense of nepotism and mismanagement.

The main opposition party held a demonstration near the president's office on Tuesday demanding his resignation over the rising cost of food, medicine and other essential goods, causing serious hardship for Sri Lanka's 22 million people.

Sri Lankan opposition supporter displays a loaf of bread to highlight the rising food prices

Rising food and fuel prices are hitting an already impoverished country hard

Sri Lanka is currently battling record inflation and unprecedented food and fuel shortages as the country struggles to finance imports.

Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has hit the island's tourism sector hard, while the amount of money sent home by Sri Lankans living abroad has also declined.

Watch video 02:27

Fertilizer ban hits Sri Lankan food stocks

jsi/msh (AP, AFP)

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