Sri Lanka under curfew to avoid protests sparked by worsening economic crisis

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A 36-hour curfew has been imposed in Sri Lanka from Saturday 6pm to Monday 6 am amid a spate of protests over the economic crisis in the island nation. The curfew has been imposed to prevent protests and Sri Lankans won’t be allowed to step out unless for essential services during the curfew.

The nation of 22 million people is in the grip of its worst downturn since independence, sparked by an acute lack of foreign currency to pay for even the most essential imports.

Diesel — the main fuel for buses and commercial vehicles — was unavailable at stations across the island, according to officials and media reports — crippling public transport.

Owners of private buses — which account for two-thirds of the Sri Lanka’s fleet — said they were already out of oil and that even skeleton services might not be possible after today.

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Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday, giving sweeping powers to security forces. The country’s former president Maithripala Sirisena’s Freedom Party has called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to form an all-party government to tide over the crisis, news agency PTI reported.

Rajapaksa invoked the tough laws allowing the military to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without trial as demonstrations calling for his ouster spread across the island nation.

The southern towns of Galle, Matara and Moratuwa also saw anti-government protests, and similar demonstrations were reported in the northern and central regions. All held up traffic on main roads.

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Rajapaksa’s office said on Friday that the protesters wanted to create an “Arab Spring” — a reference to anti-government protests in response to corruption and economic stagnation that gripped the Middle East more than a decade ago.

One of the President’s brothers, Mahinda, serves as Prime Minister while the youngest, Basil, is Finance Minister. His eldest brother and nephew also hold cabinet positions.

Sri Lanka’s predicament has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which torpedoed tourism and remittances. Many economists also say the crisis has been exacerbated by government mismanagement and years of accumulated borrowing.