Sri Lanka wants to halve army after financial crisis

Bankrupt Sri Lanka will drastically reduce its military, the defense ministry said on Friday, as the government works to clean up its chaotic finances after an unprecedented economic crisis.

The island nation is still suffering from months of food and fuel shortages that have made daily life for its 22 million people miserable over the past year.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has hiked taxes and imposed drastic spending cuts to ease the passage of an expected International Monetary Fund bailout after a sovereign debt default.

Next on the chopping block are the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, with the Ministry of Defense announcing it will withdraw 65,000 troops from its 200,000-strong army later in the year.

The cuts account for the lion’s share of plans to reduce Sri Lanka’s land forces to 100,000 by the end of the decade.

“The overall goal of the strategic blueprint is to establish a technically and tactically sound and balanced defense force,” the ministry said in a statement.

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Sri Lanka’s armed forces are still bloated more than a decade after the end of the country’s traumatic ethnic civil war.

Nearly 400,000 people outnumbered nearly 400,000 military personnel in 2009 when government forces crushed the Tamil Tiger separatist movement during an all-out offensive that claimed thousands of civilian casualties.

Defense accounted for almost 10 percent of public spending last year, and according to expert analysts, salaries for security guards account for half of government payrolls.

Sri Lanka warned this week that despite huge tax hikes earlier in the year it has barely enough revenue to pay for public employees and pensions.

The economy shrank an estimated 8.7 percent last year as the public endured long power outages, long lines for gas, empty supermarket shelves and runaway inflation.

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The crisis reached its climax in July when protesters, angered by the crisis, stormed the residence of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who briefly fled the country and tendered his resignation abroad.

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