Opposition lawmakers in Sri Lanka protest state of emergency
Sri Lanka faces huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves, and its struggle to pay for imports has caused a lack of basic supplies
Opposition lawmakers in Sri Lanka on Sunday marched in the capital, Colombo, protesting against the president's move to impose a nationwide curfew and state of emergency following demonstrations blaming the government for an economic crisis.
Internet users in Sri Lanka were also unable to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on Sunday, after they had been used to organize protests calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign, saying he is responsible for the country’s deepening economic woes.
Netblocks, a global internet monitor, confirmed that network data collected from over 100 vantage points across Sri Lanka showed the restrictions coming into effect across multiple providers from midnight.
Sri Lanka is under a nationwide curfew from Saturday night until Monday morning after Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency and assumed emergency powers at midnight Friday. More protests were being planned throughout the country on Sunday, as anger over shortages of essential foods, fuel and long power cuts boiled over.
The emergency declaration by Rajapaksa gives him wide powers to preserve public order, suppress mutiny, riot or civil disturbances or for the maintenance of essential supplies. Under the emergency, the president can authorize detentions, seizure of property and search of premises. He can also change or suspend any law except the constitution.
In an apparent move to defy Rajapaksa's order, the lawmakers marched toward Colombo's main square, shouting slogans and carrying placards that read “Stop Suppression” and “Gota go home.” Gota is a shortened version of the president's first name.
Armed soldiers and police officers set up barricades on the road leading to the square, which was built to commemorate the country's independence from Britain in 1948.
“This is unconstitutional," opposition leader Sajith Premadasa told troops who prevented the lawmakers from walking to the square. "You are violating the law. Please think of the people who are suffering. Why are you protecting a government like this?”
Another lawmaker, Nalin Bandara, said: “How long can they rule under emergency? The first instance when the curfew is lifted, people are going to be back on the streets."
Sri Lanka faces huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves, and its struggle to pay for imports has caused a lack of basic supplies. People wait in long lines for gas, and power is cut for several hours daily because there’s not enough fuel to operate power plants and dry weather has sapped hydropower capacity.
The island nation’s economic woes are blamed on a failure of successive governments to diversify exports, instead relying on traditional cash sources like tea, garments and tourism, and on a culture of consuming imported goods.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the economy with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion in the last two years. Protesters also point to mismanagement — Sri Lanka has immense foreign debt after borrowing heavily on projects that don’t earn money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations are around $7 billion for this year alone.
The crisis has hit people from all walks of life. Middle class professionals and business people who would normally not take part in street protests have been holding nightly rallies with candles and placards in many parts of the country.