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Sri Lanka bans strikes as anti-tax protests spread

COLOMBO – The Sri Lankan government said Tuesday it was banning strikes in several key sectors, a day ahead of a planned one-day nationwide shutdown called by unions to protest painfully high taxes and utility bills.

Anger is mounting at President Ranil Wickremesinghe as his administration cuts spending and hikes taxes to secure an IMF bailout after more than a year of economic and political upheaval.

Wickremesinghe’s office said he used his executive powers to invoke an “essential services” order that effectively banned the proposed union action.

He declared “public transportation, delivery of food or drink or coal, oil, fuel, the maintenance of facilities for road, rail or air transportation … airports, ports and railway lines, to essential services with immediate effect,” a statement said.

Anyone who opposes the Basic Welfare Ordinance risks losing their job.

More than 40 unions, including bank employees and government hospital workers, had said they would not do any work on Wednesday in a symbolic protest at the doubling of taxes since January.

The government has tripled energy bills in line with International Monetary Fund calls to reduce state utility losses to qualify for a $2.9 billion bailout.

Sri Lanka asked the IMF for help after it defaulted on the country’s $46 billion in external debt in April.

The IMF has yet to release the funds pending financial assurances from China, Sri Lanka’s largest single bilateral creditor, that it is willing to take a haircut on its loans to the South Asian nation.

Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis since late 2021 has left severe food, fuel and medicine shortages and fueled months of protests that ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July.

Wickremesinghe, who was elected by Parliament to replace Rajapaksa, says the economy has shrunk 11 percent over the past year and the island will remain bankrupt until at least 2026.

He has also announced that the country has no money to fund a local election scheduled for March 9, prompting allegations that he is using the economic crisis to stifle democracy.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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