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Sri Lankan parliamentarians blocked inside parliament as strike call by unions shuts down country

Embattled Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Photo: Instagram)

Sri Lanka came to a standstill on Friday after trade unions went on strike demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's resignation. The island nation in the Indian Ocean is facing an unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis over its inability to import essential products as well as oil.

All trade unions joined the strike except the ones affiliated to the ruling party.

Private as well as public institutions and businesses remained closed after multiple trade unions gave the call to the president to step down.

Indian news agency PTI quoted Ravi Kumudesh of the Joint Trade Union Action group as saying: "Today's one day action is to tell the president that he should step down along with the government. If our pleas are not heeded we will go into continuous strike action from May 11 until the government resigned".

Finance Minister Ali Sabry said mid-week that Sri Lanka is left with barely $50 million of foreign exchange reserves. He was earlier in Washington to hold discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an urgent bail-out for the country which teeters on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

People face shortage of food, rising fuel prices and prolonged power cuts. The anti-government protests have often spiralled into violence and confrontation with the police.

University students along with other protesters have continued to camp at the Galle Face sea front outside the main road to parliament. Posters with the slogan 'Gotta go home' have become the defining message of the public protests.

The opposition parties have been trying to cobble up a majority but have not been successful in getting the required numbers for a simple majority. Even though some of the main leaders have met the speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament, they have not been able to topple the president or his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lankan newspaper Daily Mirror said that the MPs were stuck inside the parliament premises as hundreds of protestors blocked the parliament despite the use of tear gas and water cannons by the police. The newspaper quoted member of parliament Harin Fernando as saying that all entrances and exits had been blocked by the protestors and MPs were stuck inside and would take some time to leave.