The Sri Lankan President declares a state of emergency after violent protests against the economic crisis

The state of emergency came into effect on April 1, according to an official gazette issued on Friday, and allows authorities to arrest and detain suspects without warrants.

Rajapaksa said the decision to declare the state of emergency was made in the “interests of public safety, protecting public order and maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.”

The island nation of 22 million is struggling with an ongoing economic crisis that has forced people to queue for basic goods and face hour-long power outages.

The statement followed violent protests Thursday night, in which angry protesters threw bricks and set fire to a bus outside the president’s private residence in the capital, Colombo, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protests as officers arrested dozens of people and imposed an overnight curfew in parts of Colombo, CD Wickramaratne, the inspector general of police, said in a statement.

Reuters reported that an official said at least two dozen police officers were injured in the clashes but declined to comment on the number of protesters injured.

President Rajapaksa’s office released a statement on Friday alleging that “organized extremists” used iron bars, clubs and bars to incite protesters to “riot” in front of his residence.

Later on Friday, Sri Lanka’s Municipal Police Services Minister, Dilum Amunugama, described the protest as an act of terrorism.

“I think the official communiqué used the wrong terminology. They weren’t extremists, they were terrorists,” he told reporters. “The government’s stance is that if terrorism prevails, it should be defeated.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to Sri Lanka’s economy over the past two years, including the important tourism sector. And Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunge warned the protests would further hurt the economic outlook, Reuters reported.

“The main problem Sri Lanka is facing is a shortage of foreign exchange and protests of this nature will hurt tourism and have economic consequences,” Ranatunge said.

What is happening in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is struggling with a foreign exchange crisis that has forced currency devaluation and impacted supplies of basic commodities such as food, medicine and fuel.

For weeks, residents have spent hours queuing for basic supplies and faced power outages lasting more than 10 hours. Soldiers are stationed at gas stations to reassure customers who have queued for hours in the scorching heat to fill up their tanks.
Demonstrators run for cover as police use tear gas during a protest outside the Sri Lankan President's home March 31, 2022.
Foreign reserves have plummeted 70% to $2.31 billion over the past two years, Reuters reported. Sri Lanka has about $4 billion in debt to repay for the remainder of this year, including a $1 billion international government bond maturing in July.

Demonstrators have been peacefully protesting the situation for weeks, some calling for the president to resign, but Thursday’s protests mark an escalation of the crisis.

Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the United Nations resident coordinator in Sri Lanka, called on all groups to exercise restraint.

“We are monitoring developments and are concerned about reports of violence in Sri Lanka,” she said in a tweet.

Journalist Rukshana Rizwie reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka. CNN’s Alex Stambaugh and Sophie Jeong reported from Hong Kong. Additional coverage from Reuters.

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