Sri Lankan curfew aims to curb protests

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide curfew from Saturday night to Monday morning, in addition to the president’s declared state of emergency, in a bid to prevent further protests blaming the government from the worsening economic crisis.

Government Information Chief Mohan Samaranayake said the curfew is imposed under the powers vested in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He drew the ire of protesters who called for his resignation outside his residence on Thursday night, leading to police firing tear gas and arresting dozens of people.

“The curfew is an attempt to silence people,” said Ruki Fernando, a human rights activist who turned up at a protest in the capital, Colombo, which dispersed shortly after the protest. entry into force of the curfew.

“I don’t know why a curfew has been imposed. What we need now is not a curfew, we need food, gas, fuel and the freedom to express ourselves,” Fernando said.

Rajapaksa assumed emergency powers at midnight on Friday amid widespread calls for protests across the country last Sunday as anger over shortages of essential food, fuel and lengthy power cuts boiled over last week.

Sri Lanka faces large debts and dwindling foreign exchange reserves, and its struggle to pay for its imports has resulted in a lack of basic supplies. People wait in long queues for gas, and electricity is cut for several hours a day because there is not enough fuel to run power stations and dry weather has undermined the hydroelectric capacity.

The covid-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the economy, with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion over the past two years. Protesters also point to mismanagement – Sri Lanka has a huge external debt after borrowing heavily on projects that don’t bring in money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations amount to about $7 billion this year alone.

Rajapaksa’s declaration of emergency gives him broad powers to preserve public order, suppress mutinies, riots or civil unrest or to maintain essential supplies. In urgent cases, the President may authorize detentions, seizure of property and search of premises. He can also amend or suspend any law except the constitution.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the largest group of lawyers, said the emergency declaration was not the answer to the country’s problems.

“These protests reflect the plight of people seeking to secure for themselves and their families some of the essentials of life,” the lawyers said in a statement, urging Rajapaksa to revoke the state of emergency and ensure the rights of individuals to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Gallery: Protesting inflation in Sri Lanka

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