Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency in the country on Friday, a day after protestors tried to storm his home in Colombo city, reported the Associated Press.
Rajapaksa invoked the Public Security Ordinance that authorises him to make regulations to maintain public order, suppress riots or maintenance of essential supplies.
Under the emergency regulations, the president can detain citizens, take possession of any property and search any premises. He can also change or suspend any law.
On Friday, citizens had staged protests in Colombo as well as different parts of the country demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation over the government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 as the island’s foreign reserves have hit rock bottom. The country had declared an economic emergency in August. Sri Lankans are now facing shortages of milk powder, cooking gas, kerosene and other essential items.
On Thursday night, security forces fired bullets into the crowd and used teargas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. It was, however, not clear if the forces used rubber bullets or live rounds.
The next morning, the president’s office alleged in a statement that the majority of the agitators “who organised the protest are extremists”.
Police said that over 50 protestors have been arrested for Thursday’s incident.
Police spokesperson Ajith Rohana said that 24 police personnel and several other civilians were injured in the protest. He said that several vehicles of police and army were also torched by protesters.
Total damage was estimated to be around $1,32,000 (over Rs 1 crore), Rohana said, adding that the suspects will be charged with damaging public property.
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunge has warned against such protests, reported Reuters.
“The main issue Sri Lanka is facing is a forex shortage and protests of this nature will hurt tourism and have economic consequences,” Ranatunge said.
The economic crisis
Retail inflation in Sri Lanka hit 18.7% in March, the statistics department said on Thursday. Food inflation also reached 30.2% in the same month in the country.
Authorities have imposed 13-hour daily power cuts from Thursday due to shortage of fuel. The state electricity regulator extended Wednesday’s 10-hour power cut by another three hours.
Government-run hospitals are running out of life-saving medicines due to a shortage of foreign exchange needed for imports. Several state-run hospitals have stopped conducting surgeries too.
Petrol prices in the country have increased by 92% and diesel by 76%, since the beginning of the year.
Sri Lanka is looking for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and has also sought help from India and China.
On March 18, New Delhi had extended a line of credit worth $1 billion, or over Rs 7,600 crore, to support Colombo to manage the economic meltdown. In January too, India had offered an assistance of $1.4 billion, over Rs 10,661 crore, to Sri Lanka.
On Monday, the Sri Lankan central bank said it has sought an additional line of credit of $1.5 billion, or over Rs 11,396 crore, from India to import essential supplies.
On March 21, Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong had said that Beijing was also considering extending a credit line worth $2.5 billion, or more than Rs 18,994 crore, to Colombo.