International

Day after unrest, Sri Lanka government declares Emergency

Protesters hold banners and placards during a demonstration against the surge in prices and shortage of fuel and other essential commodities in Colombo on April 1, 2022.

Protesters hold banners and placards during a demonstration against the surge in prices and shortage of fuel and other essential commodities in Colombo on April 1, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of Emergency in crisis-hit Sri Lanka, a day after angry citizens converged in front of his residence demanding his immediate resignation.

An extraordinary gazette notification issued late on Friday said the state of emergency, coming into immediate effect, was “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”.

The move comes as spontaneous pocket protests erupt in different parts of the country. the President has blamed “organised extremists” for staging a large protest outside his private residence on Thursday night, as public anger mounts over his government’s handling of the economic crisis gripping Sri Lanka.

Watch | Protests in Sri Lanka before the country goes into curfew

Over 50 suspects have been arrested, police said. Nightlong curfews were imposed in the area and other select neighbourhoods, amid reports of angry citizens blocking roads and demanding that the government step down.

The President’s Media Division said a group, “carrying iron bars, clubs and sticks” had “provoked the protesters”, and “marched towards” the President’s residence, “causing a riot”. 

“Many of those involved in this violent incident have been arrested and many have been identified as organised extremists. They had led the protest shouting the slogans ‘let’s create an Arab Spring in this country’,” its statement said.  

Spiralling shortages

In addition to opposition parties, citizens’ groups in Sri Lanka have been holding independent protests in several areas for nearly a month against the government that they hold responsible for the country’s rapidly deteriorating economic condition. Fuel, food, and medicines are in short supply, while the public are facing long power outages — upto 13 hours on Thursday — disrupting daily life.

Thursday’s protest began peacefully, with dozens of citizens silently gathering at the venue, holding anti-government posters, and chanting slogans asking Mr. Rajapaksa to “go home”. Later, riot police deployed to the area used tear gas and water cannons, as authorities accused some protestors of “turning violent”.

A team of senior government ministers that held a press conference on Friday morning sought to blame “extremists from opposition parties” for the “violence” which, they said, prompted army deployment.  

The UN’s Resident Coordinator in Colombo said in a tweet: “We are monitoring developments and are concerned by reports of violence in #SriLanka. Calling for restraint from all groups.”

Demonstrators participate in a protest of hundreds of people outside Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home to call for his stepping down as the country’s unprecedented economic crisis worsened in Colombo, on March 31, 2022.

Demonstrators participate in a protest of hundreds of people outside Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home to call for his stepping down as the country’s unprecedented economic crisis worsened in Colombo, on March 31, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

Torture allegations

Meanwhile, some of the persons arrested following the protest have complained of torture in police stations.

“Several bystanders and people, including Tamil and Muslim boys, who had nothing to do with the protest, have been arrested,” said lawyer Swasthika Arulingam, after visiting the police station. “Some of them were bleeding when I met them. They said the army and STF [Special Task Force] beat them badly,” she told The Hindu.

The protest not only reflects a further escalation of the crisis, but also signals people’s growing frustration, according to political observers.  “People have begun to show their anger against the President and government’s insensitivity to their suffering, and utter inability to manage this growing economic and political crisis,” senior political scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda told The Hindu.

Terming it a protest against the “arrogance of power shown” by the President and his Cabinet, he said it had potential to mark a “turning point.”

“This is the first time in the recent history of Sri Lanka that people are taking to the streets voluntarily and independent of political parties,” Prof. Uyangoda said, pointing to its “strengths and limits”.

“A spontaneous mass protest is easy to crush and cannot be sustained politically, without the backing of opposition political parties,” he added.


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Printable version | Apr 2, 2022 6:48:17 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/day-after-unrest-sri-lanka-government-declares-emergency/article65281760.ece