Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after riots over economic crisis
(Update 1: Adds latest Indian fuel contribution)
Colombo, Apr 2 (EFE).- The president of Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency in the country late Friday with immediate effect after protesters tried to storm his residence amid widespread outrage over an economic crisis that is leading to power cuts and shortages of basic goods.
The emergency was declared “in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in an official gazette.
The declaration of the state of emergency came after the riots on Thursday night, when dozens of people tried to enter the president’s official residence in Colombo during a silent agitation to demand his resignation for his government’s handling of the severe economic crisis in the country.
Police fired tear gas canisters and used water cannons to disperse the hundreds of protesters who tried to enter Rajapaksa’s residence and also arrested 54 people. A total of 15 police officials were injured during the incident.
The Sri Lanka government on Friday blamed an unnamed “organized extremist group” for the violent unrest.
“It has been revealed that a group of organized extremists were among the protesters, and this group suddenly became riotous and turned violent,” a presidential office statement said.
The presidential office alleged that the organizers had called for “an Arab Spring in Sri Lanka” to trigger instability on the island.
The protests came on the same day that Sri Lanka’s state-owned power company imposed a record 13-hour power cut, the longest to date in the island nation, because authorities were unable to pay for a consignment of diesel that was due to enter the country, government officials told EFE.
Sri Lanka is going through a deep economic crisis derived from a foreign exchange crunch and high debt.
This has resulted in long queues for diesel and petrol outside gas stations and frequent power outages.
Without enough foreign currency to purchase food, fuel and other essentials, the country entered an inflation and scarcity spiral months ago.
Sri Lanka received 40,000 metric tons of diesel consignment on Saturday under Indian credit line, an official from state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation said.
“This is from the Indian credit line. We will start distribution from the evening today,” the CPC source told EFE on the condition of anonymity.
On Mar. 18, India approved a credit line worth $1 billion to Sri Lanka as part of economic aid to the island to help it overcome the severe fuel and economic crisis. New Delhi had already provided $500 million to Colombo in fuel credit earlier.
The Sri Lankan government is also in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to restructure its debt, although the proposal has been rejected by the opposition.
Sri Lanka’s economy contracted by 3.6 percent in 2020 due to a loss of tourism receipts and necessary lockdown measures, according to the IMF, which noted that public debt is projected to have risen to 119 percent of GDP in 2021, compared to 94 percent in 2019. EFE