Colombo, Apr 28 (PTI) Nearly 1,000 trade unions in Sri Lanka staged a one-day nationwide strike on Thursday demanding the immediate resignation of the government, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over its failure to tackle the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.

The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.

The unions from a number of sectors, including the state service, health, ports, electricity, education and postal joined the strike under the theme ‘Bow to the people – government go home’, urging the President, the Prime Minister and the government to ‘go home’.

Also read | Sri Lankan university students mob PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s home over economic crisis

Teachers’ trade union spokesman Joseph Stalin said that the Rajapaksa government tries to hang on to power when the people have got into the streets and demanded them to go.

Ravi Kumudesh from the health workers’ trade union said that after Thursday’s strike, they would give the government a week to resign.

“After that, we would strike continuously till the government resigns”.

He said that over 1,000 trade unions joined the strike.

Also read | 18 Sri Lankan nationals flee crisis-hit island nation, reach Tamil Nadu

The bank employees’ union said that all banks remain closed and public transport was crippled with just a handful of government-owned buses operating.

Plantation workers from the central hills also joined the token strike.

“The plantation workers have joined the strike in thousands,” Opposition politician Mano Ganesan said.

The streets and trade markets looked empty in most areas.

Also read | ‘We’re all going to die someday’: Russian TV host on possible nuclear war

In the evening, the striking workers will join the main protest at Galle Face which has entered its 20th consecutive day.

The demand is for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the government for its mishandling of the island’s worst-ever economic crisis.

All Ceylon Integrated Economic Centers and Manning Market Traders Association urged farmers to refrain from bringing vegetables to economic centers as they too will be supporting the trade union action, the Colombo Page newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, Minister of Transport Dilum Amunugama said that the police have been instructed to arrest those who harm the public transport and influence private transport in the wake of the strike.

Also read | Russia killed surrendering Ukrainians in Donetsk, UN official says

The police will take legal action against those who obstruct roads, he said.

Sri Lanka Railways General Manager Dhammika Jayasundara said that due to railways workers reporting sick without prior notice, train services will be disrupted.

Co-convener of the union S P Vithanage said that despite plans to run several trains with the intervention of the Minister, the railway workers are on strike.

Earlier this month, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to drop his older brother Chamal and the eldest nephew Namal from the Cabinet in response to the ongoing protests which called for accountability from the powerful ruling family and their inability to address the worst forex crisis faced by the country.

Also read | Sri Lanka to get at least $300m from World Bank amid economic crisis

However, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not asked him to resign and claimed that they were on the “same page” to resolve the worst economic crisis, amidst reports of a rift between the two brothers in running the debt-ridden island nation.

In the second week of April, the Sri Lankan government said it would temporarily default on its USD 35.5 billion in foreign debt. The finance ministry said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine made it impossible to pay its creditors.

Now the beleaguered president is also under increasing pressure to form an interim government.