The south Asian country is facing severe shortages of food, fuel and other essentials – along with record inflation and crippling power cuts – in its most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

The escalating protests have led to fissures within the government, with the president's nephew Namal Rajapaksa condemning the partial internet blackout.
The escalating protests have led to fissures within the government, with the president's nephew Namal Rajapaksa condemning the partial internet blackout. (AFP)

Sri Lanka's entire cabinet aside from the president and his sibling prime minister resigned from their posts as the ruling political clan seeks to resolve a mounting economic crisis, with a social media blackout failing to halt another day of anti-government demonstrations.

All 26 ministers in the cabinet aside from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa submitted letters of resignation at a late-night meeting on Sunday, education minister Dinesh Gunawardena told reporters.

The move clears the way for the president to appoint a new cabinet on Monday – and some of those stepping down may be reappointed.

It came with the country under a state of emergency imposed after a crowd attempted to storm the president's home in the capital Colombo, and a nationwide curfew in effect until Monday morning.

The South Asian nation is facing severe shortages of food, fuel and other essentials – along with record inflation and crippling power cuts –in its most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

Intensifying demonstrations

Earlier, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Sri Lanka's main opposition alliance, denounced a social media blackout aimed at quelling intensifying public demonstrations and said it was time for the government to resign.

"President Rajapaksa better realise that the tide has already turned on his autocratic rule," SJB lawmaker Harsha de Silva told AFP.

Troops armed with automatic assault rifles moved to stop a protest by opposition lawmakers and hundreds of their supporters attempting to march to the capital's Independence Square.

The road was barricaded a few hundred metres from the home of opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, and the crowd engaged in a tense stand-off with security forces for nearly two hours before dispersing peacefully.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka restricts social media access after curfew to quell protests

Internal rifts

The escalating protests have led to fissures within the government, with the president's nephew Namal Rajapaksa condemning the partial internet blackout.

"I will never condone the blocking of social media," said Namal, the sports minister.

He was among three members of the Rajapaksa family who later resigned, along with finance minister Basil and the eldest brother Chamal, who held the agricultural portfolio.

A junior party has also hinted it may leave the ruling coalition within a week.

The move would not affect the government's survival but threatens its chances of lawfully extending the country's state of emergency ordinance.

Western diplomats in Colombo have expressed concern over the use of emergency laws to stifle democratic dissent and said they were closely monitoring developments.

Sri Lanka's influential Bar Association has urged the government to rescind the state of emergency, which allows security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without charges.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka capital under heavy security following night of unrest

A critical lack of foreign currency has left Sri Lanka struggling to service its ballooning $51-billion foreign debt, with the pandemic torpedoing vital revenue from tourism and remittances.

The crisis has also left the import-dependent country unable to pay even for essentials.

Diesel shortages have sparked outrage across Sri Lanka in recent days, causing protests at empty pumps, and electricity utilities have imposed 13-hour blackouts to conserve fuel.

Sri Lanka is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. 

READ MORE: Indebted Sri Lanka seeks further $1B credit line from India

Source: AFP