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Sri Lanka's president and prime minister resign amid an economic crisis

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There will soon be new leaders in Sri Lanka. Both the president and prime minister announced they will resign after tens of thousands of protesters took over both of their official residences this weekend. Images show people splashing in the president's pool, playing card games in a bedroom and freely roaming the halls. Protesters are upset over the country's economic crisis and months of political turmoil. Joining us now is Ahilan Kadirgamar, who also protested this weekend representing the Federation of University Teachers' Associations. He's also a political economist and senior lecturer at the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

AHILAN KADIRGAMAR: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: May I ask you, just at a personal level, what pushed you to join these protests?

KADIRGAMAR: The situation in Sri Lanka for a long time has been one problem after the other. We've had a civil war, and then following that, an authoritarian regime. I have been writing about these crises. But the last six months has been particularly severe with not only an economic crisis but a food crisis.

MARTIN: Can you explain more about the severity of the food crisis? Just what is the economic situation? How is it affecting people in their day-to-day lives?

KADIRGAMAR: Fuel is in short supply. Even cooking gas is in short supply. And there's been great price hikes. The roads are empty because there's no petrol and diesel for vehicles. The economy is grinding to a halt. But even more worrying is the fact that there are food shortages and price hikes of food as well, while people's livelihoods and incomes are declining or have been disrupted. So we are looking at a very serious food crisis, possibly even a famine in a few months, unless there's urgent action to remedy the situation.

MARTIN: I mean, what have been the president's justifications for the status quo here?

KADIRGAMAR: He's hardly listened to the people. And that's part of the anger against him as the crisis continue to deteriorate. And, you know, he has a authoritarian military background. And he's been taking arbitrary decisions and ignoring the economy altogether. But it's not just him, his family and his whole regime that were in power completely mismanaged the situation. We might have been going into a crisis for many years now because of the flawed economic policies that Sri Lanka has been following, but it didn't have to get this bad. And that's the reason for so much anger out on the streets and a call for his resignation.

MARTIN: So it's my understanding that the president and prime minister have both now said that they will step down.

KADIRGAMAR: That's right. As of now, there's expectations that on Wednesday, both of them would resign. But then there is the hard task of forming some kind of an interim government so that some amount of political stability and economic stability can be brought to the country.

MARTIN: Are you tentatively optimistic?

KADIRGAMAR: The last few days and then the massive protests on Saturday itself was a euphoric moment for Sri Lankans. So there is optimism. And with the entire population politicized and concerned about the future of the country, we are on the right track. But we need a leadership that can carry the people out of this crisis.

MARTIN: Ahilan Kadirgamar is a political economist at the University of Jaffna. Thank you for your time.

KADIRGAMAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "ART IN THE AGE OF AUTOMATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.