Colombo, July 10 (Agencies): India continues to stand with the people of Sri Lanka, the Indian government said in its first reaction to the latest political crisis in the island nation, a day after mobs overran the Presidential palace and set the Prime Minister’s private home on fire, forcing both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Ranil Wickremsinghe to flee to undisclosed locations in the country.
Both leaders have announced their decision to resign. The main Indian Opposition Congress party also issued a statement on Sunday, expressing “solidarity” with the Sri Lankan people and urging India and the international community to assist the island nation in the throes of an economic storm and severe food and fuel shortages.
“We are aware of the many challenges that Sri Lanka and its people have been facing, and we have stood with the Sri Lankan people as they have tried to overcome this difficult period,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in response to questions from reporters.
“India stands with the people of Sri Lanka as they seek to realize their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values, established institutions and constitutional framework,” he added, stressing that India had already announced support of US$ 3.8 billion to Sri Lanka in 2022, in line with the government’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.
On Sunday, Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Baglay met with Sri Lankan Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, to hand over 44,000 metric tonnes of urea under a credit line extended to help Sri Lankan farmers.
“We have been supportive of Sri Lanka, are trying to help and have always been helpful. They are working through their problem, we will see what happens,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told journalists after landing in Thiruvananthapuram.
When asked if New Delhi was worried about an influx of Sri Lankans to India amidst the crisis, Mr. Jaishankar said, “There is no refugee crisis right now.”
The Congress party’s acting president Sonia Gandhi also expressed concern over the “enormous hardships and distress among the people” in Sri Lanka.
“The Congress party expresses its solidarity with Sri Lanka and its people in this moment of grave crisis and hopes they will be able to overcome it. We hope that India will continue to assist the people and government of Sri Lanka as they deal with the difficulties of the current situation,” Ms. Gandhi said in a statement.
IMF Hopes for Quick Resolution of Political Crisis
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it is hoping for a resolution to Sri Lanka’s political turmoil that will allow a resumption of talks for a bailout package after a violent day of protests.
“We are closely monitoring the ongoing developments in Sri Lanka,” Peter Breuer, IMF Senior Mission Chief for Sri Lanka, and Masahiro Nozaki, IMF Mission Chief for Sri Lanka said in a statement on Sunday.
“We hope to resolve the current situation that will allow for the resumption of our dialogue on an IMF-supported programme, while we plan to continue technical discussions with our counterparts in the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Sri Lanka,”
“We are deeply concerned about the impact of the ongoing economic crisis on the people, particularly the poor and vulnerable groups, and reaffirm our commitment to support Sri Lanka at this difficult time, in line with the IMF’s policies,” the IMF statement said.
The IMF will formally agree to a deal until re-structuring discussions with creditors are initiated but a staff-level deal was expected around August 2022.
Pope Francis on Sunday told the leaders of Sri Lanka “not to ignore the cry of the poor and the needs of the people,” and appealed for peace in the Asian country.
Speaking from St. Peter’s square for his Sunday Angelus message, the Pope expressed solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka who he said “continue to suffer from political and economic instability”.
“Together with the bishops of the country, I renew my appeal for peace,” the Pope said.
EU Wants Lankan Leaders to Have Focus
The European Union (EU) and the US on Sunday urged Sri Lanka’s political fraternity to cooperate, focus and work quickly’ to achieve a peaceful, democratic and orderly transition amid the island nation’s worst economic and political crisis in decades.
“We urge this government or any new, constitutionally selected government to work quickly to identify and implement solutions that will achieve long-term economic stability and address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the worsening economic conditions, including power, food and fuel shortages”, the EU spokesperson said.
The spokesman also warned against attacks on protesters or journalists, but also criticized Saturday’s violence.
“The Sri Lankan people have the right to peacefully raise their voices, and we call for the full investigation, arrest and prosecution of anyone involved in any protest-related violent incidents”, the spokesperson added.
In Brussels, the European Union said it was closely following the evolving situation in Sri Lanka.
“We are closely following developments in Sri Lanka, and call on all parties to cooperate and focus on a peaceful, democratic and orderly transition”, said a statement released by the European Union. It is the responsibility of all party leaders to pave the way to a solution to the current crisis and return back to normalcy, it said.
The EU said it is assessing the available options to further step up its support to Sri Lanka’s population.
US Urges Quick Steps
The United States has urged Sri Lankan authorities to work quickly to implement solutions to achieve long-term economic stability and address the people’s discontent regarding the worsening economic conditions.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Washington is closely following the developments in Sri Lanka.
The United States condemns any violence against peaceful protesters and journalists, the spokesperson said further, adding that Sri Lankan people have the right to peacefully raise their voices, and we call for the full investigation, arrest and prosecution of anyone involved in any protest-related violent incidents.
“We urge this government or any new, constitutionally-selected government to work quickly to identify and implement solutions that will achieve long-term economic stability and address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the worsening economic conditions, including power, food, and fuel shortages.”
Further, the United States called on the Sri Lankan parliament to approach this juncture with a commitment to the betterment of the nation not any one political party.
President Rajapaksa has historically endured a thorny relationship with the US over the dismissal of allegations of war crimes during Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war. Nevertheless, Washington has over the past two months offered USD 120 million in new financing for Sri Lankan small and medium-sized businesses, a USD 27 million contribution to Sri Lanka’s dairy industry and USD 5.75 million in humanitarian assistance to help those hit the hardest by the economic crisis.
The US has also committed USD 6 million in new grants to provide livelihood assistance to vulnerable populations, and technical assistance on financial reform that will help stabilise the economy.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials.