Emergency powers allow for the deployment of troops to maintain law and order in addition to the police force.
Sri Lanka’s president declared a state of emergency for the second time in five weeks, giving sweeping powers to security forces as a nationwide strike by angry protesters brought the country to a standstill.
A spokesman for Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he invoked emergency laws on Friday to “ensure public order” after shops were closed and public transport was halted over the strike, bringing the 22-year-old nation to a standstill. million people after weeks of unrest.
Police fired tear gas and used water cannons later that day to disperse students trying to storm the national parliament to demand Rajapaksa’s resignation.
The state of emergency empowers security forces to arrest and imprison suspects for long periods without judicial oversight. Emergency powers also allow for the deployment of troops to maintain law and order in addition to the police.
The presidential spokesman said that the laws will take effect from midnight.
The beleaguered Rajapaksa had previously declared a state of emergency on April 1, a day after thousands of protesters tried to storm his private home in the capital. That emergency was allowed to expire on April 14.
But the protests have intensified since then, sparking Sri Lanka’s worst crisis since independence in 1948.
Rajapaksa has insisted that he will not resign despite the escalation of demonstrations.
‘he must go’
The new emergency declaration came as thousands of protesters stood outside Rajapaksa’s waterfront office, where they have been protesting since April 9, and smaller groups attempted to storm the homes of other key government politicians.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa and his ruling family for mismanaging the economy, as months of blackouts and severe shortages of food, fuel and pharmaceuticals have caused widespread suffering across the island. Foreign exchange shortages have also hampered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which rose to 18.7 percent in March.
As oil prices soar due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Sri Lanka’s fuel reserves are running low. Authorities have announced power outages across the country that extend up to 7 1/2 hours a day because they can’t supply power generating stations with enough fuel.
Millions of workers were out of work on Friday in the strike, organized by the country’s trade union movement. State bus and train services were disrupted. Industrial workers demonstrated outside their factories and black flags were hung across the country in an expression of anger at the government.
“We can identify the political mistakes of the president that led to this sorry state of our economy,” union leader Ravi Kumudesh said.
“He must go.”
Last month, Sri Lanka announced that it would default on its $51 billion foreign debt, and Finance Minister Ali Sabry warned this week that the country will have to endure its unprecedented economic hardship for at least two more years.
Hospitals are short of vital medicines and the government has asked citizens abroad for donations.
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis took hold after the coronavirus pandemic hit tourism revenue and remittances.