Sri Lanka: Thousands defy curfew, govt rebuts PM Mahinda Rajapaksa may quit report
Sri Lanka emergency: Armed soldiers and police personnel were seen deployed at checkpoints in Colombo to enforce the curfew. Around two dozen opposition leaders protested at police barricades, some shouting "Gota(baya) Go Home".
Thousands of citizens and Opposition lawmakers took to the streets of Sri Lanka capital Colombo on Sunday defying a nationwide curfew to protest against the severe shortage of food and fuel in the island nation.
Amid protesters calling for a change in regime, a Sri Lankan government official denied news reports that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa may step down.
A Bloomberg report quoted information department director-general Mohan Samaranayake as saying, “The rumors to the effect that the prime minister is going to resign have no basis to it.”
The report that cited local news platform, , further said one of the ruling coalition partners, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, had written to the President to ask for the caretaker government to be set up within a week, failing which its 14 lawmakers would quit the government.
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According to another report, the Prime Minister's Office said the news of Rajapaksa putting in his papers were false and there was no such plan at the moment.
A state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on Friday by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Indian Ocean island nation grappled with rising prices, shortages of essentials and rolling power cuts. A day later, the government imposed a countrywide curfew after protests turned violent.
Earlier in the day, the government lifted all restrictions that were placed on social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp hours ago. The platforms were being used over the past few days to organise protests calling for Rajapaksa’s resignation, amid allegations that he was responsible for the country’s economic woes.
The move by the government had also been criticised by minister Namal Rajapaksa, also the president's nephew. The minister for youth and sports called the restriction useless and wrote on Twitter he would "never condone the blocking of social media".
Telecommunications regulatory commission chairman Jayantha de Silva said the measure was carried out on instruction from the defence ministry and aimed at "maintaining calm".
The crisis was accelerated by deep tax cuts Rajapaksa promised during the 2019 election campaign and enacted months before the Covid-19 pandemic that had wiped out parts of the country’s economy.
Critics said the roots of the crisis, the worst in several decades, lay in economic mismanagement by successive governments that amassed huge budget shortfalls and a current account deficit. Inflation accelerated to almost 19 per cent, the highest in Asia.
Protests in island nation
In Colombo, armed soldiers and police personnel were seen deployed at checkpoints to enforce the curfew, scheduled to run until till 6am local time on Monday.
Around two dozen opposition leaders protested at police barricades near the Independence Square, some shouting "Gota(baya) Go Home".
"This is unacceptable," said opposition leader Eran Wickramaratne referring to the curfew and other restrictions.
Others stood in small groups outside their homes or gathered in the street, some holding handwritten anti-government banners or waving the national flag.
Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, many of whom were students, in the central city of Kandy. A senior police officer said officers used tear gas and water cannons to stop a protest of university students in Kandy, but did not make any arrest.
(With agency inputs)