Sri Lankan president declares state of emergency

Colombo, May 6 (EFE).- Sri Lanka’s beleaguered president declared a state of emergency Friday amid a general strike aimed at forcing his government to step down for their handling of the worst economic crisis since the nation became independent in 1948.

It is the second time in five weeks that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has resorted to suspension of basic rights and authorizing the deployment of troops in the face of protests demanding his resignation.

“The president used his executive powers to invoke emergency regulations to ensure the maintenance of essential services and public order,” a spokesperson said.

The emergency measures take effect at midnight Friday.

The president made the decision after a meeting with his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the rest of the Cabinet at the end of a day that saw commerce in the island nation brought to a standstill and police use tear gas and water cannon to prevent protesters from storming parliament.

One Cabinet minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Efe that the president indicated openness to the idea of trying to appease public anger by having his brother resign as prime minister.

“Opinions were shared during the meeting and some suggested that the prime minister resign,” the minister said, adding that the president “was really interested in resolving this problem somehow, even with the prime minister’s resignation.”

The prime minister’s spokesman, Rohan Weliwita, told Efe that Mahinda Rajapaksa “has still not decided to resign.”

As protesters and police clashed on the road next to the parliament complex earlier Friday, the speaker adjourned the house until May 17 without scheduling a debate on two no-confidence motions brought by the opposition against the government.

Here in the capital, most shops were closed, public transport was absent from the roads, and black flags flew atop buildings.

T. Gunasekera, a postal worker, told Efe that if the president and the prime minister did not step down, unions would convene an indefinite strike beginning May 11.

“It is a struggle to clean up the governance system. The Rajapaksa family has become a pain for this country,” said Gunasekera.

The general strike came on the 28th day of a sit-in by protesters near the presidential offices in Colombo.

Sri Lankans have been suffering from extended power cuts and shortages of basic goods since the government ran out of foreign reserves to pay for imports. EFE san-hbc-ssk/dr

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