COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Police in Sri Lanka’s largest city on Friday lifted a curfew after protests that saw dozens of people arrested and several police officers injured near the home of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over his management of an economic crisis.
Hundreds of protesters gathered near Rajapaksa’s home in suburban Colombo late Thursday before police dispersed them with tear gas and water cannons, a Reuters witness said.
“We arrested 54 people last night because of the riots. Several army and police vehicles were burned by the protesters, including two buses, a police jeep and several motorcycles,” said a police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Nihal Thalduwa.
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Five police officers were hospitalized with injuries, Thalduwa said, adding there were no reports of injuries among the protesters.
Streets in Colombo, the country’s commercial capital, were quiet on Friday morning. Police were combing the wreckage of two burned-out buses near Rajapaksa’s home, a Reuters witness said.
A curfew had previously been imposed in four police divisions in the city, according to Amal Edirimanne, a senior police commissioner.
The island nation of 22 million is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in years, with power outages lasting up to 13 hours a day because the government doesn’t have enough foreign currency to pay for fuel imports.
The International Monetary Fund will begin talks with the Sri Lankan authorities over a possible loan program in the coming days, a spokesman said Thursday, while the government seeks a way out of the crisis.
The government is turning off streetlights to conserve electricity, Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi told reporters, as an ongoing diesel shortage led to further blackouts and a halt to trading on the main stock exchange.
The power outages are adding to the pain of Sri Lankans who are already struggling with shortages of basic necessities and skyrocketing prices.
Retail inflation hit 18.7 percent in March from the same period a year ago, the statistics department said on Thursday. Food inflation hit 30.2 percent in March, partly due to currency depreciation and the later reversed ban on chemical fertilizers last year.
Inflation was at its worst in over a decade, said First Capital Research’s Dimantha Mathew.
The crisis is the result of ill-timed tax cuts and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with historically weak public finances that have caused foreign exchange reserves to fall by 70 percent over the past two years.