Sri Lanka imposes curfew as police fire tear gas at protesters

Police imposed a curfew in and around the Sri Lankan capital on Friday, a day before a planned protest demanding the resignation of the country’s president and prime minister due to the economic crisis that has caused severe shortages of essential goods and disrupted people’s livelihoods.

Hours before the curfew was announced, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesting students dressed in black, carrying black flags, shouting anti-government slogans and holding banners reading “Enough, now go.”

Protesters and other critics have said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is responsible for the economic crisis, the worst since the country’s independence in 1948. They also blame Ranil Wickremesinghe, who became prime minister two months ago, for failing to keep promises. to end scarcity. .

Opposition and civic activists have announced that thousands more protesters will gather in Colombo on Saturday. But the police announcement of the curfew said it came into effect at 9 p.m. and will last until further notice in Colombo and its suburbs.

The curfew announcement drew criticism from government opponents and the Sri Lanka Bar Association, which said “the curfew is blatantly illegal and a violation of fundamental rights.”

The bar association’s statement called on police to immediately withdraw what the association called an “illegal order” imposing the curfew.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa called the curfew “a fraud.”

“Take to the streets tomorrow. Challenge the dictatorship and join the people so that democracy triumphs. Yes, it can be done,” he said in a tweet.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung called on people to protest peacefully, calling on the military and police to “give peaceful protesters the space and security to do so.”

“Chaos and force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need at this time,” Chung said in a tweet.

Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on $7 billion of foreign debt due this year. It must pay back more than $5 billion a year until 2026. Its foreign exchange reserves are almost depleted and it cannot import food, fuel, cooking gas or medicine.

A lack of fuel to run power plants has led to long daily power outages. People have to queue for hours to buy fuel and gasoline. The country has survived mainly on lines of credit from neighboring India to buy fuel and other essentials.

Due to the economic crisis, inflation soared and commodity prices skyrocketed, hitting poor and vulnerable groups hard.

Due to fuel and power shortages, schools have been closed for weeks and the government has asked non-essential state employees to work from home.

The country is negotiating a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund, but Wickremesinghe said this week negotiations are difficult because Sri Lanka is effectively bankrupt. He earlier said that the country’s economy had “collapsed”.

The economic crisis has triggered political turmoil, with widespread anti-government protests. Protesters blocked major roads to demand fuel, and people in some areas scrambled over limited supplies.

In Colombo, protesters have occupied the entrance to the president’s office for almost three months to demand his resignation. They accuse him and his powerful family, which includes several brothers who until recently held cabinet positions, of precipitating the crisis through corruption and misrule.

Months of protests have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the last two decades.

One of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned as prime minister last month, and two other brothers and a nephew resigned earlier from their cabinet posts.

President Rajapaksa admitted that he did not take action to avert economic collapse soon enough, but refused to leave office. It is almost impossible to unseat presidents under the constitution unless they resign on their own.

Leave a Comment