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