Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) – Dozens of people were arrested in Sri Lanka after protests near the president’s residence demanded he resign amid the country’s worst economic crisis, police said on Friday.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office blamed “organized extremists” for violence within a group of protesters during Thursday night’s demonstration, where police fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands of protesters and arrested 54 people.
Lawyer Nuwan Bopez, representing some of the suspects, said several of them were being taken for medical examination for various injuries and would likely appear in court later on Friday.
The protesters have been blaming Rajapaksa for the prolonged power outages and lack of essentials. The police curfew, implemented in the capital’s suburbs, was lifted on Friday morning.
On Thursday, a protesting mob on the streets leading to Rajapaksa’s private residence on the outskirts of Colombo pelted stones at two army buses, which were used by police to prevent protesters from entering the road leading to the president’s house. was doing for They set one of the buses on fire and turned back a fire truck that arrived to douse the fire.
Police fired tear gas directly at the protesters to stop the attack on the bus, seriously injuring at least one person in the leg.
Several burnt vehicles were seen at the spot on Friday.
Sri Lanka has huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves, and its struggle to pay for imports has caused shortages. People wait in long lines for fuel, and power is cut for several hours a day because there is not enough fuel to operate production plants and the dry season has depleted hydropower capacity.
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is blamed by successive governments of not diversifying exports and relying on traditional cash sources such as tea, clothing and tourism, and a culture of consumption of imported goods.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to Sri Lanka’s economy, with the government estimating losses of $14 billion over the past two years.
Sri Lanka has huge foreign debt even after borrowing heavily on projects that do not make money. Its foreign debt repayment obligation for this year alone is approximately $7 billion.
According to the central bank, inflation rose to 17.5 per cent in February from 16.8 per cent a month ago. This is expected to increase as the government allows the local currency to float freely.