Friday, February 23, 2024
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Sri Lanka enters 36-hour lockdown

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka declared a 36-hour nationwide curfew yesterday and deployed troops backed with sweeping new powers under a state of emergency to quell protests against the president.

The lockdown went into effect yesterday and be lifted tomorrow morning, police said – a period that covers planned mass anti-government protests against worsening shortages of fuel, food and medicines.

The order came a day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invoked a state of emergency following a violent attempt to storm his house, saying it was for the “protection of public order”.

The ire of a mob in the near-bankrupt country was directed yesterday at a woman identified as a soothsayer frequently consulted by Rajapaksa in the northern town of Anuradhapura.

Rights activist and former opposition legislator Hirunika Premachandra led dozens of women to storm seer Gnana Akka’s shrine and residence, but armed police stopped them.

Sri Lankan army soldiers arrive at the vandalised neighbourhood of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapksa’s private residence. PHOTO: AP

“Why are police protecting a shaman?” she asked a senior officer who physically blocked her march, as seen on a Facebook live video, verified by AFP as authentic.

“Thief, thief, Gota thief,” the crowds chanted after armed security personnel stopped them.

“Think of the country and let us pass,” another woman activist pleaded. “#GoHomeRajapaksas” and “#GotaGoHome” have been trending for days on Twitter and Facebook in the country, which is battling severe shortages of essentials, sharp price rises and crippling power cuts in its most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

The coronavirus pandemic has torpedoed tourism and remittances, both vital to the economy, and authorities have imposed a broad import ban in an attempt to save foreign currency.

Many economists also say the crisis has been exacerbated by government mismanagement, years of accumulated borrowing, and ill-advised tax cuts.

The curfew and state of emergency in the country of 22 million came as social media posts called for protests today.

“Do not be deterred by tear gas, very soon they will run out of dollars to re-stock,” said one post encouraging people to demonstrate even if police attempt to break up gatherings.

In normal times, Sri Lanka’s military can only play a supporting role to police, but the state of emergency gives them authority to act alone, including to detain civilians.