Sri Lanka economic crisis: Over 600 held for violating curfew
More than 600 demonstrators were arrested in Sri Lanka's Western Province for violating a countrywide curfew of 36 hours, news agency PTI reported. They were planning an anti-government demonstration against the country's worst economic crisis in decades. On Sunday, opposition parliamentarians marched to Colombo's historic Independence Square, defying the government's weekend curfew, which was imposed on Saturday.
- The island country is experiencing violent protests over severe food shortages, sharp price increases, and crippling power outages in its most distressing economic crisis since it gained independence from Britain in 1948.
- According to official data, inflation in Sri Lanka reached 18.7% in March, the sixth consecutive high.
- Food prices have increased by an all-time high of 30.1%.
A total of 664 people were arrested in the Western Province on Sunday. The protest was organized by social media activists against the ongoing economic crisis and hardships heaped on people due to shortages of essentials. Notably, a countrywide curfew was declared ahead of an "Arab Spring" style protest scheduled to be staged on Sunday, Colombo Gazette reported.
"We are protesting the government's abuse of the public security ordinance to deny the public's right to protest," said Sajith Premadasa, an opposition leader who led the protest on Sunday.
A 36-hour curfew has already been imposed in Sri Lanka till Monday morning. Earlier on Saturday, a state of emergency was imposed as social media posts called for protests on Sunday. "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.
The government has also barred access to all social media sites in its latest attempt to prevent protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. As per the government order issued late Saturday, access to all social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube, has been blocked. The government stated that the move was made to combat disinformation.
"#GoHomeRajapaksas" and "#GotaGoHome" have been trending on Twitter and Facebook in the country for several days. The protests started as a result of the severe economic situation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, which has affected tourism and remittances. It also represents a huge reversal in political support for Rajapaksa, who formed the government in 2019 preaching stability.
Rajapaksa's current government has announced harsh restrictions that allow the military to arrest and keep individuals in jail for a long time without trial. In his justification, Rajapaksa said that the state of emergency was necessary to preserve public order and run critical services. Sri Lanka is experiencing a serious shortage of foreign currency to pay for even the most basic necessities.