Colombo, Mar 31 (EFE).- Sri Lankan security forces used tear gas and water cannon here Thursday to disperse a crowd of several hundred people who sought to enter a private home belonging to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa amid popular outrage over an economic crisis that is causing power cuts and shortages of basic goods.
Television stations aired footage of a group of demonstrators advancing down the road leading to the Rajapaksa residence in Colombo.
Chanting “Gota, Go Home,” the contingent gained adherents on the way and the boldest among the protesters overturned barricades and threw rocks at police vehicles.
The cops responded with volleys of tear gas and water, keeping the crowd well away from the residence.
The demonstrators demanded the resignation of Rajapaksa, whose whereabouts at the time of the incident remain unclear.
Participants said that the president has shown himself unable to deal with the acute shortage of the dollars Sri Lanka needs to pay for imports of wheat flour, milk powder, fuel, and medicines.
Thursday saw Sri Lanka’s state-owned power utility, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), impose a record 13-hour power cut due to lack of fuel.
Government officials told Efe on condition of anonymity that the sudden decision to increase the duration of the blackout from Wednesday’s 10 hours came after authorities failed to pay for a consignment of diesel.
Officials privy to the situation revealed that the operators of the cargo vessel carrying the fuel said they would not enter Sri Lanka’s territorial waters until payment was made.
“We are receiving an Indian ship under the $500 million credit line on April 2 and the CEB can assure the people that the power cut duration could be reduced below four hours,” CEB chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando told reporters on Wednesday.
Thermal power accounts for more than 70 percent of the electricity generated in Sri Lanka and those thermoelectric plants depend on fossil fuels.
While the government had assured the people that the duration of power cuts would gradually shrink beginning March 5, the situation has only worsened due to lack of fuel, which has also resulted in long queues outside gas stations despite drastic price hikes. EFE