Sri Lanka leader offers to share power as protests escalate

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Sri Lanka’s embattled president offered to share power with the opposition on Monday as protests demanding his resignation grew over the worsening shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s invitation to legislators came as heavily armed security forces looked to quell more demonstrations over what the government itself has acknowledged as the worst shortages of essentials since independence from Britain in 1948. “The president invites all political parties in parliament to accept cabinet posts and join the effort to seek solutions to the national crisis,” Rajapaksa’s office said in a statement.

It stressed that solutions to the deepening crisis should be found “within a democratic framework”, as thousands joined spontaneous demonstrations in cities, towns and villages. The invitation came after 26 cabinet members — every minister except Rajapaksa and his elder brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa — submitted letters of resignation at a late-night meeting on Sunday.

The country’s central bank governor Ajith Cabraal — who has long opposed an International Monetary Fund bailout for the country — also stepped down on Monday.

The departures cleared the way for the country’s ruling political clan to seek to shore up its weakening position. The first nominations to the new cabinet saw the president re-appoint four of the outgoing ministers, three of them to their old jobs, while he replaced his brother Basil as finance minister with the previous justice chief.

Other cabinet vacancies will be filled after talks with the opposition, the president said. But there was no immediate response from the opposition, which would not join any Rajapaksa-led government, according to comments Sunday by its main leader Sajith Premadasa.

Political analysts said the offer of a unity government did not go far enough to address the economic crisis or restore confidence in the Rajapaksa administration. “This is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Bhavani Fonseka, political analyst and human rights lawyer,.—AFP

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