February 4, 2023

Security tightened in Sri Lanka's capital after declaring a state of emergency

Security tightened in Sri Lanka’s capital after declaring a state of emergency

  • Sri Lankans suffer from a shortage of fuel and basic materials
  • Return of the shipment carrying cooking gas after unpaid
  • India rushes to provide food aid

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Police stood in front of petrol stations in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and stores slowly opened on Saturday – the first day after a state of emergency was declared to tackle mounting unrest amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

In an order issued late Friday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invoked strict laws allowing the military to arrest and detain suspects without warrants. In a declaration, he said the state of emergency was necessary to protect public order and maintain essential supplies and services.

Enraged by the lack of fuel and other essential items, on Thursday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police and the army outside Rajapaksa’s residence, where they demanded his ouster and set fire to a number of police and army vehicles.

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Police arrested 53 people and then imposed a curfew in and around Colombo on Friday to contain other sporadic protests.

In response to the emergency, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung said: “Sri Lanka has the right to peaceful protest – which is essential for democratic expression.”

“I am monitoring the situation closely, and I hope the coming days will bring restraint on all sides, as well as much-needed economic stability and relief for those who are suffering,” she said in a tweet on Twitter.

The island nation of 22 million people is struggling, with continuous power cuts of up to 13 hours a day as the government struggles to secure foreign exchange to pay for fuel imports. Read more.

Highlighting the acute shortage of foreign currency, a vessel carrying 5,500 metric tons of cooking gas was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters after Laugfs Gas (LGGL.CM)the company that requested it, was unable to buy $4.9 million from local banks to pay for it.

W.K. said “People are suffering from an acute shortage of cooking gas, but how can we help them when there are no dollars? We are stuck.” Police and soldiers have been deployed at gas stations since last month to help distribute fuel and maintain calm with thousands lined up.

The ongoing crisis – the result of economic mismanagement by successive governments – has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit tourism and remittances.

It also saw a sharp turnaround in the fortune of Rajapaksa, who came to power with a majority victory in 2019 promising stability.

The government said it is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and is also requesting new loans from India and China.

In the country’s first major food aid since Colombo secured a line of credit from New Delhi, Indian traders began loading 40,000 tons of rice. Read more

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Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and William Mallard

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.