Sri Lanka on Monday declared a state of emergency in the island nation ahead of the presidential elections to be held on July 20, reported News Wire.

Under the emergency regulations, security forces are empowered to search any premises, arrest residents and seize weapons.

“It [declaring emergency] is expedient, so to do, in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” a gazette notification stated.

The notification was issued by acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe who was appointed to the post after Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned last week amid widespread protests over his government’s handling of the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Demonstrators had for months sought Rajapaksa’s resignation, accusing him of siphoning money and mismanaging the economy. While all members of his politically-powerful family were forced to resign due to public pressure, Rajapaksa had clung to power.

After hundreds of thousands of people took over his home and office and the official residence of Wickremesinghe on July 9, Rajapaksa had agreed to step down on July 13. However, hours before he was due to resign, he fled to Maldives.

The next day, Rajapaksa, his wife Ioma and their two bodyguards flew to Singapore from the Maldives. From there, the Rajapaksa emailed his resignation to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

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Economic crisis in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has run out of foreign exchange reserves that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. The island nation’s inflation rate touched 54.6% year-over-year in June while food inflation shot up to 80%.

As the crisis deepened in April, violent clashes erupted between supporters of Rajapaksa’s party and the anti-government demonstrators. In May, 10 people had died in the clashes.

The economic meltdown led to Sri Lanka defaulting on its $51-billion foreign debt in April. The country is presently in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.

The United Nations has warned that more than a quarter of Sri Lanka’s people are at risk of food shortages. Sri Lanka Medical Council has stated that hospitals were running with minimum resources as the country imports more than 80% of its medical supplies. The top medical body also warned that it would not be able to handle any mass casualties due to the protests.