Protesters clash with riot police as they demonstrate outside Sri Lanka's president home in Colombo on Friday night. AFP
Sri Lanka imposed a countrywide curfew starting from Saturday evening until Monday morning, in addition to a state of emergency declared by the president, in an attempt to prevent more unrest after protesters took to the streets blaming the government for the worsening economic crisis.
The government's information head Mohan Samaranayake said in a statement that the curfew is being imposed under powers vested with the president.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed emergency powers on midnight Friday amid widespread calls for public protests throughout the country on Sunday, as anger over shortages of essential foods, fuel and long power cuts boiled over this week into calls for his resignation.
Sri Lanka faces huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves, and its struggle to pay for imports has caused a lack of basic supplies.
People wait in long lines for gas, and power is cut for several hours daily because there’s not enough fuel to operate power plants and dry weather has sapped hydropower capacity.
The island nation's economic woes date back a failure of successive governments to diversify exports, instead relying on traditional cash sources like tea, garments and tourism, and on a culture of consuming imported goods.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the economy with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion in the last two years.
Protesters also point to mismanagement - Sri Lanka has immense foreign debt after borrowing heavily on projects that don’t earn money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations are around $7 billion for this year alone.
A protester shouts slogans after setting a bus on fire during a demonstration in Colombo. AFP
On Thursday, angry crowds demonstrated along the roads leading to Rajapaksa’s private residence on the outskirts of Colombo and stoned two army buses that police were using to block their path.
The protesters set fire to one of the buses and turned back a fire truck that rushed to douse it. Rajapaksa’s office blamed "organised extremists” within the thousands of protesters for the violence.
Police fired tear gas and a water cannon and arrested 54 people. Dozens of other people were injured and some journalists beaten by police.
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