Sri Lankan police impose curfew as anger escalates over worst economic crisis in decades

Police have imposed a curfew in Sri Lanka’s capital and surrounding areas after firing tear gas and using a water cannon at student protesters amid public discontent over the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.

The island nation has been paralyzed by a shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to afford essential imports of fuel, food and medicine.

The country’s 22 million inhabitants have been victims of record inflation, currency depreciation and power outages for months.

The students started their protest march from a university on the outskirts of the city and moved to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence in the heart of the business district, which had been barricaded by the police.

Protesters planned to spend the night next to the police barricades until the second wave of protesters joined them on Saturday morning.

The protesters said they would besiege the president’s residence.

Police responded with tear gas and water cannons to push back the demonstrators.

Many protesters called for the resignation of Mr Rajapaksa, whom they blame for the economic crisis in the country – the worst since independence in 1948.

Police use the water cannon in Colombo at night to disperse protesting students.
Police used water cannons to disperse protesting students in Colombo.AP: Amitha Thennakoon

They also blame Ranil Wickremesinghe, who became prime minister two months ago, for not fulfilling promises to end the deficits.

Police said the curfew, which began at 9 p.m. Friday, would last in Colombo and its suburbs until further notice.

The curfew was criticized by opponents of the Sri Lankan government and Bar Association, who said the curfew was “clearly illegal and a violation of fundamental rights”.

The statement by the Bar Association asked police to immediately revoke what the association called an “illegal order” imposing the curfew.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa called the curfew “a fraud”.

Police fire tear gas cans to disperse protesting students in Colombo.
Police said the curfew would last until further notice in Colombo and its suburbs.AP: Amitha Thennakoon

Sri Lanka’s ‘Collapsed’ Economy

Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy and has suspended repayments of $7 billion ($10.2 billion) in foreign debt due this year.

It must repay more than $5 billion annually through 2026. Its foreign reserves are nearly exhausted and it cannot import food, fuel, cooking gas and medicines.

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