Following violent protests over the country’s greatest economic crisis in decades, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a statewide state of emergency late Friday.
In a government gazette statement, Rajapaksa stated that he made the decision in the interests of public security, public order, and the maintenance of supplies and critical services.
Hundreds of demonstrators battled with police and the military outside Rajapaksa’s home in a Colombo neighbourhood on Thursday.
On Friday, police arrested 53 people and imposed a curfew in and around Colombo to quell occasional protests about shortages of basic supplies such as fuel and other goods.
Rolling blackouts for up to 13 hours a day are expected in the Indian Ocean island nation of 22 million people as the administration scrambles to get foreign money to pay for fuel imports.
The pandemic has decimated the country’s valuable tourism economy and remittances from foreign workers, and the government’s finances have been further strained by dramatic tax cuts promised by Rajapaksa during his 2019 election campaign.
Ordinary Sri Lankans are also experiencing shortages and rising inflation as a result of the country’s sharp devaluation of its currency last month in preparation for talks with the International Monetary Fund on a loan package.
In a country where India and China are competing for influence, an alliance of 11 political parties has urged Rajapaksa to dissolve the cabinet and establish a government of all parties to cope with the problem, local media said.
On Thursday, after torching multiple police and army vehicles, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds near Rajapaksa’s mansion.
An official said at least two dozen police officers were hurt in the fighting, but declined to say how many demonstrators were hurt.
Such protests, according to Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunge, will undermine the country’s economic prospects. “The major issue facing Sri Lanka is a currency shortage, and such protests will harm tourism and have economic implications,” Ranatunge added.
Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the UN representative in the nation, urged all parties involved in the violence to exercise moderation. “We’re keeping an eye on things and are concerned about reports of violence,” she tweeted.
The country’s stock market was shut down for the third day in a row on Friday after the key blue-chip index dropped 10%.