Sri Lankan police used tear gas and a water cannon on Friday to disperse student protesters who were camped outside Parliament criticising lawmakers for not ousting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades. The student-led protest began on Thursday after a government-backed deputy speaker was elected in Parliament by a comfortable margin in what was seen a key victory for the governing coalition. Separately, protesters have been occupying the entrance to the president’s office in the capital, Colombo, for 28 days demanding Rajapaksa and his powerful ruling family quit. Shops, offices and schools were closed across the country on Friday and transport came to a near standstill amid widespread demonstrations. Months of blackouts and acute shortages of food, fuel and pharmaceuticals have caused widespread suffering across the South Asian island nation. Public anger has sparked sustained protests demanding the government step down over its mismanagement of the crisis, Sri Lanka’s worst since independence in 1948. Privately owned buses were off the roads while industrial workers demonstrated outside their factories and black flags were hung across the country in an expression of anger against the government. “We can pinpoint the policy blunders of the president that led to this very sorry state of our economy,” said trade union leader Ravi Kumudesh. “He must go.” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has insisted he will not step down despite escalating demonstrations across the island, including a protest that has been camped outside his seafront office for nearly a month. Police fired tear gas on thousands of students attempting to storm the national parliament on Thursday evening after the assembly had adjourned for the day. Sri Lanka’s economic crisis took hold after the coronavirus pandemic hammered income from tourism and remittances. Unable to pay for fuel imports , utility companies have imposed daily blackouts to ration electricity, while long lines of people snake around service stations for petrol and kerosene. Hospitals are short of vital medicines and the government has appealed to citizens abroad for donations. Last month Sri Lanka announced it was defaulting on its US$51 billion foreign debt, and finance minister Ali Sabry warned this week that the country will have to endure its unprecedented economic hardships for at least two more years .