Sri Lankan president declares state of emergency following violent protests over economic crisis

The state of emergency came into effect on April 1, according to an official newspaper published on Friday, and allows authorities to arrest and detain suspects without a warrant.

Rajapaksa said the decision to impose a state of emergency was taken in “the interests of public safety, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the population. community”.

The island nation of 22 million is grappling with an ongoing economic crisis that has forced people to queue for basic goods and face hour-long blackouts.

The statement follows violent protests on Thursday night, which saw furious protesters throwing bricks and setting fire to a bus outside the president’s private residence in the capital, Colombo, Reuters reported.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the protests, according to Reuters, as officers arrested dozens of people and imposed a curfew in parts of Colombo overnight, CD Wickramaratne said, the Inspector General of Police, in a statement.

Reuters reported that an official said at least two dozen police officers were injured in the clashes, but declined to comment on the number of injured protesters.

President Rajapaksa’s office released a statement on Friday alleging that “organized extremists” wielding iron bars, clubs and poles incited protesters to “riot” outside his residence.

Later Friday, Sri Lanka’s Community Policing Minister Dilum Amunugama called the protest an act of terrorism.

“I think the wrong terminology was used in the official statement. They weren’t extremists, they were terrorists,” he told reporters. “The position of the government is that if terrorism wins, it must be defeated.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the Sri Lankan economy over the past two years, including the key tourism sector. And Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunge warned the protests would further damage economic prospects, Reuters reported.

“The main problem facing Sri Lanka is the shortage of foreign currency and protests of this nature will hurt tourism and have economic consequences,” Ranatunge said.

What’s going on in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is grappling with a currency crisis which has forced a devaluation of the currency and impacted the supply of basics such as food, medicine and fuel.

For weeks, residents have spent hours queuing for basic supplies and coping with power cuts lasting more than 10 hours. Soldiers are stationed at gas stations to calm customers, who have been queuing for hours in the scorching heat to fill up their tanks.
Protesters run for cover as police use tear gas during a protest outside the Sri Lankan President's house on March 31, 2022.
Foreign exchange reserves have fallen 70% over the past two years to $2.31 billion, Reuters reported. Sri Lanka has to pay off about $4 billion in debt over the rest of the year, including a $1 billion international sovereign bond that matures in July.

Demonstrators have staged peaceful protests against the situation for weeks, with some calling on the president to resign, but Thursday’s protests mark an escalation in the crisis.

Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the United Nations resident coordinator in Sri Lanka, called for restraint from all groups.

“We are monitoring developments and are concerned about reports of violence in Sri Lanka,” she said in a statement. Tweeter.

Journalist Rukshana Rizwie reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka. CNN’s Alex Stambaugh and Sophie Jeong reported from Hong Kong. Additional Reuters reporting.


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