Thursday, 13 June, 2024

Sri Lanka imposes state of emergency amid protests

Burnt-out vehicles outside Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's private residence in Colombo on Friday. - NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

April 2: A nationwide state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka, a day after protests outside the president's house turned violent.

Protesters stormed barricades and have been accused of setting vehicles ablaze near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's private residence on Thursday.

The military has since been deployed and now has the power to arrest suspects without warrants.

Sri Lanka is in the midst of a major economic crisis.

It is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which is used to pay for fuel imports.

Faced with power cuts lasting half a day or more, and a lack of fuel and essential food and medicines, public anger has reached a new high in the island nation of 22 million.

The protest outside President Rajapaska's house on Thursday began peacefully, but participants said things turned violent after police fired tear gas, and water cannons and also beat people present.

Protesters retaliated against the police by pelting them with stones.

At least two dozen police personnel were reportedly injured during the clashes, according to an official cited by the Reuters news agency.

On Friday, 53 demonstrators were arrested, and local media reported that five news photographers were detained and tortured at a police station. The government said it would investigate the latter claim.

Despite the crackdown, protests continued and spread to other parts of the country.

Demonstrators in the capital carried placards calling for the president's resignation.

The government has imposed a curfew in the capital for the second night in a row and has expanded it to include the whole of the country's Western Province, according to AFP.

President Rajapaksa said the decision to declare a state of emergency was taken in the interests of public security, the protection of public order, and to ensure the maintenance of supplies and essential services.

A UN representative in the country, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, called for restraint from all groups in a tweet.

The demonstrations mark a massive turnaround in popularity for Rajapaksa, who swept into power with a majority win in 2019, promising stability and a "strong hand" to rule the country.