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Sri Lanka celebrates independence anniversary amid economic hardship

Colombia, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka marked its 75th anniversary of independence as a bankrupt nation on Saturday, with many citizens angry, anxious and not in the mood for celebration.

Many Buddhists and Christian clergy had announced a boycott of the celebration in the capital, while activists and others have expressed anger over what they see as a waste of money at a time of severe economic crisis .

Despite criticism, armed troops marched along Colombo’s main esplanade, displaying military equipment as navy ships sailed out to sea and helicopters and planes flew overhead.

Catholic priest, Reverend Cyril Gamini, has called the ceremony to commemorate independence from British rule a “crime and waste” at a time when the country is experiencing such economic difficulties.

“We ask the government what independence they will proudly celebrate by spending a sum of 200 million rupees ($548,000),” Gamini said, adding that the Catholic Church does not condone spending public money on the celebration. and that no priest would attend the ceremony. .

About 7% of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people in the Buddhist-majority country are Christians, most of them Catholics. Despite being a minority, the views of the church are respected.

Prominent Buddhist monk Reverend Omalpe Sobitha said there was no reason to celebrate and the ceremony was just a display of weapons made in other countries.

Sri Lanka is effectively bankrupt and has suspended repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year pending the outcome of talks with the International Monetary Fund.

The country’s total external debt exceeds $51 billion, of which $28 billion must be repaid by 2027. Unsustainable debt and a severe balance of payments crisis, in addition to lingering scars from the COVID-19 pandemic , have led to severe shortages of essentials such as fuel, medicine and food.

The shortages led to protests last year that forced then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.

There have been signs of improvement under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, but power cuts continue due to fuel shortages, hospitals face drug shortages and the Treasury struggles to raise funds to pay salaries of government employees.

The economic crisis has made people angry and apathetic towards political leaders.

To manage the country’s spending, the government has sharply increased income taxes and announced a 6% reduction in funds allocated to each ministry this year. Additionally, the military, which numbered more than 200,000 in the midst of a long civil war, will be cut by nearly half by 2030.

A group of activists began a silent protest in the capital on Friday, condemning the government’s celebration of independence and its failure to ease the economic burden.

ABC News

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