Police and the military yesterday patrolled Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, as shops slowly opened — the first day after a state of emergency was declared to tackle growing unrest amid an unprecedented economic crisis.
In an order late on Friday, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invoked tough laws that allow the military to arrest and detain suspects without warrants.
The state of emergency was necessary to protect public order and to maintain essential supplies and services, he said in a proclamation.
Angered by shortages of fuel and other essential items, hundreds of protesters on Thursday clashed with police and the military outside Rajapaksa’s residence as they called for his ouster and torched several police and army vehicles.
Police arrested 53 people and then imposed a curfew in and around Colombo on Friday to contain other sporadic protests.
Reacting to the state of emergency, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung said: “Sri Lankans have a right to protest peacefully — essential for democratic expression.”
“I am watching the situation closely, and hope the coming days bring restraint from all sides, as well as much needed economic stability and relief for those suffering,” she wrote on Twitter.
The island nation of 22 million people is grappling with rolling blackouts for up to 13 hours a day as the government scrambles to secure foreign exchange to pay for fuel imports. .
Highlighting a severe shortage of foreign currency, a vessel carrying 5,500 tonnes of cooking gas has had to leave Sri Lankan waters after Laugfs Gas, the company that ordered it, was unable to procure US$4.9 million from local banks to pay for it.
“People are struggling with an acute shortage of cooking gas, but how can we help them when there are no dollars? We are stuck,” Laugfs Gas chairman W. H. K. Wegapitiya said.
In the first major food aid to the country since Colombo secured a credit line from New Delhi, Indian traders have started loading 40,000 tonnes of rice for prompt shipment to Sri Lanka.
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