Widespread protests grip Sri Lanka as cost of living crisis felt by millions

As one of the worst financial crisis in Sri Lanka's history hits those who live there, thousands take to the streets to protest President Gotabaya Rajapasksa who they say is responsible.

Words by ITV News Journalist Sanjay Jha

K Prashanthinie, 46 years, a former teacher, has been suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and several other ailments and is dependent upon her daily dose of medicine procured from a government hospital.

Due to her medical condition, she has been admitted to the government hospital several times alongside recuperating at home.

A resident of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, she shares a tiny one-room apartment with her husband and daughter.

K Prashanthinie says getting her medicine is becoming increasingly difficult. Credit: ITV

People like Mrs Prashanthinie depended on Sri Lanka's universal healthcare system, which was once one of the best in South Asia.

But, the current economic crisis has forced patients to skip medicine entirely or buy from the open market. The medicine Mrs Prashanthinie and many like her need are not available at government facilities.

"There is hardly any medicine available at government hospitals, and sometimes if it's available, there is a long queue," Mrs Prashanthinie says.

"I can't wait a long time in a queue due to my illness as I start fainting due to the heat, so I'm unable to get my medicine.

"My husband works as a driver and is the sole breadwinner, so if he goes to pick up the medicine, he loses his daily wage, then we can't eat".

Her 13-year-old daughter, Mridula, is studying and is struggling to get a notebook to practice, leaving her unable to study.

The increasing cost of living and the unavailability of cooking gas has forced the family to cut down on their daily meals.

Rising inflation, falling foreign reserves, fuel shortages and power cuts have forced people onto the streets.

Sri Lankans representing various government establishments shout slogans against the government during a protest in Colombo. Credit: AP

Thousands of protestors have gathered in front of the president's office at Galle Face beach in the heart of the city waving the Sri Lankan flag and blowing trumpets.

Galle Face has become an epicentre of Sri Lankan protests with food, water, tents, and daycare.

Protests at the five-hectare strip, which now includes an area popularly called the 'Gota Go' village, are similar to Egypt's Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring.

It witnesses a carnival-like atmosphere as people join hands in protest, demanding the ousting of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Scores of young men and women are now staying put day and night, right next to the Presidential Secretariat, in what looks like a tent city of resistance.

Protesters who are part of the 'Occupy Galle Face' movement have one simple message to the country's most powerful man – "we will not go home unless you do."

Danish Ali has been at the protest site from day one.

He said: "We are here to save our motherland from this Rajapakse family and not only from the Rajapakse family but from the entire governance system running the system.

"We want a new system from new people [so] new things happen."

Danish Ali has been at the protest site from day one.

Protests have remained peaceful so far, but on Tuesday, one person died after police opened fire in Colombo.

Protestors burned tyres and blocked the 115 km highway connecting Kandy to Colombo, which meant at multiple service stations pumps ran out of fuel.

Hasini Suhara, 26, came to the protest site with her friend.

She said: "We don't see a future here, so all of us are here for one goal.

"We just ask the Rajapakse and the government to step down and give this parliament to people who are able to drive the country forward.

"Paying all these loans to give us back all our stolen money and ensure that this country is as it was years and years ago."

'We don't see a future here'

Mounting pressure from the protestors has now forced the local government to seek a bailout.

A delegation headed by Sri Lanka's Finance Minister Ali Sabry kicked off formal talks with the IMF in Washington this week. Sri Lanka's neighbour India has also promised to provide an additional $500 million for fuel.

Patients like Prashanthinie hope to get their medicine supply back before it is too late.