How activists helped bring down Sri Lanka's govt

STORY: After months of mounting public anger over the country's worst economic crisis in seven decades, Sri Lanka’s president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is on the brink of resignation.

That's after a core group of activists rallied hundreds of thousands to demonstrate.

Among them, a Catholic priest, a digital strategist, and a popular playwright.

Pushing to revive the country’s flagging protest movement, they began meeting in June at a seaside tented camp in Colombo.

Digital strategist Semeera Dedduwage -

“We nudged the people in the right direction. People were already determined, they were already expecting something and they were willing to commit themselves to this outcome. So, what really happened by this core group, was we gave the people a slight nudge in the right direction and the rest happened organically and spontaneously"

The protest movement had already begun in March.

Thousands began taking to the streets to vent anger at fuel, gas and medical shortages.

They also called for the Rajapaksa family that had dominated the country's politics for much of the last 20 years to leave power.

But protests began to dwindle.

So the activists targeted July 9 as the date to finally unseat the president.

Playwright Ruwanthie de Chickera explains why:

“Somewhere, before July 9th, the idea was put forward to the group that we couldn't keep this momentum going very for much longer and we needed someone to do something that inspired the people of Sri Lanka to come out again to show their rejection of the system, the way they had come out in April. And the idea was floated let's go with July 9th. We picked July 9th because April 9th the ‘Aragalaya’ started, May 9th Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, June 9th Basil Rajapaksa resigned and we felt that July 9th would be a good day to get the Sri Lankan people out on the road to demand the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Which was the rallying call that brought all the people together in the first place. So, we put all our energies then to inspiring people to set aside whatever problems they have and to make the effort and come. It was a tremendous effort we were asking of people.”

The activists say they used a variety of methods to motivate people from online agitation, word of mouth and door-to-door campaigning.

They expected only 10,000 to turn up in Colombo for an anti-government march.

But, despite a curfew, heavy restrictions and lack of fuel, police estimate crowds swelled to up to 200,000 people - according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Overwhelming security and police, they broke in and occupied the Presidential palace.

The Prime Minister’s personal residence was attacked and a part of it set alight.

Within hours, the leaders were ready to go.

If Rajapaksa resigns on Wednesday (July 13) as promised, the once war hero who was both revered and feared, will become the first sitting Sri Lankan president to quit.

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