Colombo: As Sri Lanka struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades and on Thursday (March 31), thousands of people protests against the government’s handling of the situation turned violent. Sri Lankan police resorted to using tear gas and water canon to disperse several hundred people protesting near the President, demanding his resignation. Police later enforced a curfew in several suburban areas of the capital Colombo as the protests wouldn’t subside.
At least 10 people were injured including journalists after protests held outside the residence of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa turned violent. Protesters, some clad in motorcycle helmets, dismantled a wall and hurled bricks at police, before setting a bus alight on a road leading to Gotabaya’s residence, a Reuters witness said. A bus attached to the Sri Lanka Army and a jeep were set on fire by protesters.
Protesters demonstrated, shouting slogans condemning the long power cuts and shortages of essentials, along the roads leading to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Mirihana, on the outskirts of Colombo. Demonstraters also demanded Rajapaksa to step down, while shouting slogans such as “Go home, Gota go home.”
Inspector General of Police, CD Wickramaratne, told the media that the curfew would last “until further notice”.
After Thursday’s protest turned violent, more spread throughout the city, and visuals showed protestors blocking the main highway from Colombo to Kandy using burning logs.
People protesting over power cuts, shortage of essentials, fuel prices:
The calls for the president’s resignation comes as Sri Lanka battles its worst economic crisis since 1948, triggered by a severe shortage of fuel, food, and foreign exchange to afford imports.
A foreign exchange crunch in Sri Lanka has led to a shortage of essential goods such as fuel and cooking gas, and power cuts now last up to 13 hours a day. People wait in long queues to get fuel.
On Wednesday, the nation had announced 10-hour daily power cuts, as the state electricity monopoly said that the country had run out of oil to power thermal generators and was imposing a 10-hour power cut – up from a seven-hour outage since the beginning of the month.
Prices of fuel have sky-rocketed since the beginning of the year with the cost of petrol up by 92 percent and that of diesel by 76 percent in the country. Officials said that it took the government 12 days to arrange for $44 million and pay for the latest shipment of LP gas and kerosene.
The state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) said there would be no diesel in the country for at least two days. Motorists waiting in long queues were asked to leave until imported fuel was restocked.
Curfew imposed in parts of Colombo:
After the protest, police imposed a curfew in parts of Colombo and its suburbs until further notice, said police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa.
He asked people in the areas where the curfew was imposed to remain at home, warning that those who violate the curfew will be dealt with strictly according to the law. He also said motorists will not be allowed to travel through those areas and asked the public to use alternative routes.
Angry protesters also gathered around the Mirihana police station accusing the police of trying to protect the corrupt. Police there deployed tear gas.
Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves are dwindling at a time when it faces huge debt obligations. The country’s struggle to pay for imports has caused shortages.