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The economic collapse means the rich of Sri Lanka are struggling

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Chamari Silva stands in the darkness of her empty living room, wearing a dejected expression on her face. After decades of grueling hard work, Ms. Silva rose from the working class to run a luxury fashion boutique on one of Colombo’s most expensive shopping streets.

s Silva attended parties in expensive hotels. She took her family on vacation to Dubai and Australia. The wife of the current Prime Minister of Sri Lanka was a regular customer.

“Now it’s all over. I can no longer buy materials for my clothes because of the import ban. People can’t afford to shop and nobody comes from abroad to buy my clothes,” said Ms Silva, who reports a 60 percent drop in customers since Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown accelerated in January . Sri Lanka is facing one of the worst economic crises in the world. It owes more than 25 billion euros to international debtors, including China.

A blanket ban on non-essential imports to conserve remaining foreign exchange has pushed inflation to the highest levels in Asia and the Sri Lankan rupee has become the world’s worst-performing currency.

The middle class has seen livelihoods destroyed and savings wiped out. From partying in beach bars and discussing which foreign university to send the kids to, the conversation has shifted to what food will remain affordable and where to buy gas.

Mrs. Silva was unable to pay the rent for her “dream house” which towers over Lake Bolgoda. The property stands abandoned and infested with insects. Two months ago she moved into her small workshop with her husband and daughter.

“I’m angry with the system and I want to kill the politicians. We had so many plans for the future and now they have been dashed, we don’t know what tomorrow will be,” Ms Silva said.

The price of vegetables has increased fivefold since last year and the cost of rice, a staple, has risen 30 percent.

Normally this week would have been busy as Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority Sinhala celebrates the New Year while the Muslim minority celebrates Ramadan. By that year, most clothing stores and restaurants had closed their stores because they could not afford to keep their outlets powered.

At another store, a couple who previously ran a luxury hotel in London were the only buyers to enter.

“Everyone has now been pushed into the same ball, there is no longer a middle class in Sri Lanka. Everyone’s money has become worthless,” said the man, who asked not to be named because his wife works for the government.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka who has faced allegations of human rights abuses during the devastating 26-year civil war, was elected by a landslide victory in 2019.

But the same middle classes who rallied to support Mr Rajapaksa now accuse him of bankrupting the country through poor budgetary choices and corruption. His brothers Mahinda, prime minister, and Basil, finance minister until his resignation on April 4, are said to have benefited from government contracts.

“The ethno-nationalist authoritarianism of the Rajapaksas, gross economic mismanagement combined with unfavorable developments in the form of the pandemic and before that the Easter Sunday bombings [of 2019], have wrecked the Sri Lankan economy,” said Charu Lata Hogg of UK think tank Chatham House. “It spared no one.”

Sri Lanka has also run out of fuel. To conserve limited supplies for emergencies, the government is imposing nationwide daily power outages of 10 hours. Across Colombo, residents of all classes are forced to wait from sunrise to sunset for supplies and often return empty-handed.

Hundreds of protests have erupted, many led by angry professionals, who have been joined by larger groups of poorer workers who rely on meager daily wages. Tens of thousands took to the streets of Colombo over the weekend in the largest protests to date.

As protesters refuse to clear the streets and Mr Rajapaksa stands firm, fears of violent conflict are growing. The Sri Lankan military was deployed by Mr. Rajapaksa to keep the peace.

“We have never seen so much corruption. The Rajapaksas should at least have the conscience to step down now and save face,” said a young protester in Colombo.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/asia-pacific/economic-collapse-leaves-sri-lankas-wealthy-struggling-41562332.html The economic collapse means the rich of Sri Lanka are struggling

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