COLOMBO, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) – Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide curfew from Saturday night until Monday morning, in addition to a state of emergency declared by the president, in an effort to prevent more protests from blaming the government for the worsening economic crisis. .
The government’s intelligence chief, Mohan Samaranayake, said the curfew rule would be imposed on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He sparked outrage from protesters who demanded his resignation outside his home on Thursday night, which led to police firing tear gas and arresting numerous people.
“The curfew is an attempt to keep the people quiet,” said Ruki Fernando, a human rights activist who was on his way to a protest in the capital, Colombo, which disappeared early after the curfew went into effect.
“I do not know why a curfew rule was announced. “What we need now is not a curfew rule, we need food, gas, fuel and the freedom to express ourselves,” Fernando said.
Rajapaksa accepted emergency forces on Friday night amid widespread calls for protests Sunday across the country as anger over shortages of essential food, fuel and long power outages boiled over this week.
Sri Lanka is facing huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves, and its struggle to pay for imports has caused a shortage of basic supplies. People wait in long queues for gas, and power is cut off for several hours daily because there is not enough fuel to operate power plants and dry weather has suppressed hydropower capacity.
The island nation’s economic woes date back to a failure of successive governments to diversify exports, instead relying on traditional cash sources such as tea, clothing and tourism, and on a culture of consuming imported goods.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the economy hard with the government estimating a loss of $ 14 billion over the past two years. Protesters also point to mismanagement – Sri Lanka has huge foreign debt after borrowing heavily on projects that do not earn money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations are about $ 7 billion for this year alone.
The crisis has affected people from all walks of life. Middle-class professionals and business people who would not normally take part in street protests have held nightly rallies with candles and posters in many parts of the country.
Angry crowds protested Thursday along the roads leading to Rajapaksa’s private residence on the outskirts of Colombo, pelting two army buses with stones used by police to block their way. The protesters set one of the buses on fire and turned back a fire truck that was in a hurry to put it out.
Rajapaksa’s office blamed “organized extremists” within the thousands of protesters for the violence. Police fired tear gas and a water cannon, arresting 54 people. Dozens of other people were injured and some journalists were beaten by police.
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Ajith Rohana, senior police spokesperson, said 24 police personnel and several other civilians were injured. Total damage is estimated at about $ 132,000 and the suspects will be charged with damaging public property, Rohana said.
Nuwan Bopage, who represents some of the suspects, said 27 were released on bail when they appeared in court on Friday night and the others were waiting to be processed.
The emergency declaration by Rajapaksa gives him wide powers to maintain public order, suppress mutiny, riot or civil unrest or for the maintenance of essential supplies. In an emergency, the president can authorize arrests, seizure of property and search of premises. He can also change or suspend any law other than the constitution.
The Lawyers Association of Sri Lanka, the largest group of lawyers, said the emergency statement was not the answer to the country’s problems.
“These protests reflect the desperate situation of the people who are trying to provide for themselves and their families the most basic necessities in life,” the jurists said in a statement, urging Rajapaksa to revoke the state of emergency and people’s rights. on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
A curfew rule has already been implemented in the suburbs of Colombo after Thursday’s protests, but was lifted on Friday morning.
The powerful Rajapaksa family includes not only the president but his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is credited with a military victory that ended the country’s 25-year civil war against Tamil rebels in 2009. Five other family members serve as legislators, including Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of Irrigation Chamal Rajapaksa and a cousin, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.
The huge political influence of the Rajapas caste has raised fears for the family’s control over key state functions and for the weakening of independent government institutions.