Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday declared a state of emergency for the second time in a little over a month amid an unprecedented economic crisis in the island country, AFP reported.
Rajapaksa has invoked the emergency to ensure public order, his spokesperson said. The emergency came into effect at midnight on Friday.
Earlier on Friday, protestors tried to storm the country’s Parliament demanding that Rajapaksa should resign. The demonstrators remained outside Parliament despite the police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.
Several legislators were unable to leave the Parliament building due to the protests, the Daily Mirror reported. Harin Fernando, an MP from the Opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya, said that all entrances and exits to the premises had been blocked.
Fernando added that his party would boycott proceedings in the House till a no-trust vote against the president and the government were taken up. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya, or the United People’s Power, had submitted two no-confidence motions against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Tuesday.
The Sri Lankan government government had first declared a state of emergency on April 1, giving Rajapaksa sweeping powers to detain demonstrators and seize property. However, protests seeking his dismissal had continued despite the order.
On April 5, the president had revoked the emergency hours after his ruling coalition lost the majority in Parliament.
Meanwhile, trade unions in Sri Lanka also began a countrywide strike on Friday, seeking the government’s resignation on account of the economic crisis, PTI reported. Unions from health and port sectors as well as other government services took part in the strike. Some pro-government unions, however, refused to participate.
Ravi Kumudesh, the co-convenor of the protesting workers’ unions, said that more than 2,000 unions were joining them. He, however, said that workers will continue to provide emergency services.
“Today’s one day action is to tell the president that he should step down along with the government,” Kumudesh said, according to PTI. “If our pleas are not heeded, we will go into continuous strike action from May 11 until the government resigns.”
Sri Lanka is currently mired in public debt, leading to its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948. With the country’s foreign currency reserves dwindling, Sri Lankans are facing shortages of medicines, milk powder, cooking gas, kerosene and other essential items.
Authorities have imposed 13-hour daily power cuts due to a shortage of fuel to operate power plants. On April 17, state-run petroleum corporation had began rationing fuel – one the many commodities in shortage in the island nation.
On April 12, the government said it would default on its entire external debt worth $51 billion (over Rs 3.88 lakh crore) till it receives a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
A country’s external debt pertains to the money borrowed by it from foreign lenders through commercial banks, governments or international financial institutions.