Sri Lanka blocks social media amid calls for more protests

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka has shut down access to many social media platforms to prevent further protests blaming the government for deepening the economic crisis.

Netizens in most of Sri Lanka were unable to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on Sunday. Netblocks, a global internet monitor, confirmed that network data collected from over 100 vantage points across Sri Lanka showed the restrictions taking effect from midnight for multiple providers.

A nationwide curfew is in effect in Sri Lanka from Saturday night to Monday morning after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency. Protests have been called for on social media platforms demanding the resignation of the president and saying he is responsible for the economic crisis.

Rajapaksa assumed emergency powers at midnight on Friday, as protests were called across the country on Sunday as anger boiled over this week’s shortages of essential food, fuel and lengthy power outages.

Rajapaksa’s declaration of emergency gives him sweeping powers to maintain public order, quell mutinies, riots or civil unrest, or to maintain basic services. In an emergency, the President can authorize arrests, confiscation of property, and searches of premises. He can also amend or repeal any law other than the Constitution.

Sri Lanka faces huge debt burdens and dwindling foreign exchange reserves, and struggles to pay for imports have led to a lack of basic services. People wait in long lines for gas, and power is out for several hours a day because there is not enough fuel to run power plants and dry weather has depleted hydroelectric capacity.

The island nation’s economic woes are blamed on successive governments’ failure to diversify exports, relying instead on traditional sources of money such as tea, clothing and tourism, and a culture of consuming imported goods.

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to the economy, with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion over the past two years. The protesters also point to mismanagement – Sri Lanka has immense external debts after borrowing heavily on projects that don’t make money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations for this year alone total about $7 billion.

The crisis has affected people from all walks of life. Middle-class and business people who would not normally take part in street protests have held nightly rallies with candles and placards in many parts of the country.

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