Sri Lanka imposes curfew amid food, fuel and power shortage protests

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A 36-hour curfew has been declared in Sri Lanka, as a state of emergency is enforced amid violent protests against food and fuel shortages.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a notice prohibiting anyone from being on any public road, in a park, on trains, or on the seashore, unless they have written permission from the authorities.

The curfew began at dusk on Saturday.

Social media sites have been blocked, including Facebook and Twitter.

WhatsApp is also down, and mobile phone users received a message saying this was “as directed by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission”.

The stringent restrictions are aimed at preventing new protests, after crowds were accused of setting vehicles ablaze near the president’s private residence on Thursday.

The military has since been deployed and now has the power to arrest suspects without warrants.

The island nation is in the midst of a major economic crisis. It is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which is used to pay for fuel imports.

Faced with power cuts lasting half a day or more, and a lack of fuel and essential food and medicines, public anger has reached a new high.

Thursday’s protest outside President Rajapaksa’s Colombo house began peacefully, but participants said things turned violent after police fired tear gas, water cannons and also beat people present.

Protesters retaliated against the police by pelting them with stones.

At least two dozen police personnel were reportedly injured during the clashes, according to an official cited by Reuters news agency.

On Friday, 53 demonstrators were arrested, and local media reported that five news photographers were detained and tortured at a police station. The government said it would investigate the latter claim.

Despite the crackdown, protests continued, and spread to other parts of the country.

Demonstrators in the capital carried placards calling for the president’s resignation.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to impose a state of emergency has come as a shock to many.

One of the most draconian pieces of legislation in Sri Lanka, it is meant to be deployed in situations of “exceptional threat, danger or disaster”.

One of the last times it was invoked, for instance, was in the aftermath of the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in 2019.

The law allows for the detention of people without proof or the presumption of innocence, and severely restricts fundamental rights such as the freedom of movement and expression.

It also allows the police and military to arrest and detain people without warrants.

This has given rise to fears that the government is going to resort to a brutal crackdown on protesters, who are angry about the toll taken on their lives by the ongoing economic crisis.

Civil protesters and journalists have already reported being tortured by police for simply being present at the protests outside Mr Rajapaksa’s home, and one of the organisers was taken in for questioning late on Friday night.

The imposition of the law cannot be challenged in the courts, although parliament will need to ratify it within 14 days of its declaration.

The government has the majority in parliament to pass it. Thereafter it will need to be extended on a monthly basis.

President Rajapaksa said the decision to declare a state of emergency was taken in the interests of public security, the protection of public order, and to ensure the maintenance of supplies and essential services.

The demonstrations mark a massive turnaround in popularity for Mr Rajapaksa, who swept into power with a majority win in 2019, promising stability and a “strong hand” to rule the country.

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