Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces May Day calls to step down

Protesters take part in a demonstration over the country's crippling economic crisis outside the official residence of Sri Lanka's prime minister in Colombo on 1 May 2022.AFP

Sri Lanka's fractious opposition showed rare unity Sunday, joining together to demand embattled president Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign over the country's worst-ever economic crisis.

Main opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) staged a mass rally at Independence Square in the capital Colombo, where speaker after speaker called for the ouster of Rajapaksa and his powerful ruling family.

"For over a month, the president has been barricaded in his official residence," former legislator Hirunika Premachandra said. "It is time for us to pull him by his ear and kick him out."

Months of lengthy blackouts, skyrocketing inflation and acute shortages of food, fuel and pharmaceuticals have sparked numerous anti-Rajapaksa protests across the country.

Premachandra, who kicked off the wave of demonstrations by staging a sit-in outside the president's private home in mid-March, urged all parties to unite and topple the government.

The JVP, the country's main leftist party, held its own rally outside a Colombo railway station, insisting the government should step down and allow an early election.

"Gota go home, go home Gota," chanted tens of thousands of JVP activists waving red flags.

Several minor opposition parties also demonstrated in Colombo and provincial capitals.

But while Gota's ruling SLPP coalition skipped its customary May Day rally, the president issued a statement asking all political parties to "overcome the challenges we face."

"Instead of following up on who is responsible for the current problematic situation, what we need to do now is to focus on what action can be taken to provide immediate relief," Rajapaksa said.

Elsewhere in the capital, thousands of activists laid siege to Rajapaksa's sea-front office for the 23rd straight day, calling for his resignation.

The president reportedly told dissidents within his coalition government on Friday he was willing to consider forming a unity government, but that neither he nor his brother Mahinda, the country's prime minister, would step down.