- UDITHA JAYASINGHE and DEVJYOT GHOSHAL
Colombia, Sri Lanka
Protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, held numerous small peaceful demonstrations on Sunday amid a severe economic crisis, defying a nationwide curfew, as police used tear gas to disperse protesters students in the central city of Kandy.
A senior police official said officers used tear gas and water cannons to stop a protest by university students in Kandy.
“There were around 750 participants but no arrests were made,” said Nihal Thalduwa, a police spokesman.
People attend a protest against Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a residential area after the government imposed a curfew following a clash between police and protesters near the president’s residence during a a protest amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 3. PHOTO: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte.
Thalduwa said more than 600 people arrested in Western Province on Saturday night for violating curfew orders have been released on bail granted by police and charges will be brought against them later.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday as the Indian Ocean island nation grapples with rising prices, shortages of essentials and power cuts. On Saturday, the government implemented a nationwide curfew after protests turned violent.
On Sunday afternoon, the government lifted a block it had placed on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp hours earlier. Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Chairman Jayantha de Silva said the measure was implemented on instructions from the Ministry of Defense and was aimed at “maintaining calm”. De Silva later told Reuters the restrictions had been lifted.
While the block was in place, Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, the president’s nephew, nevertheless tweeted in which he said he would “never tolerate social media blocking”.
Critics say the roots of the crisis, the worst in decades, lie in the economic mismanagement of successive governments that have racked up huge budget deficits and a current account deficit.
The crisis was accelerated by major tax cuts promised by Rajapaksa during the 2019 election campaign and enacted months before the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out parts of Sri Lanka’s economy.
In Colombo, soldiers armed with assault rifles and police-manned checkpoints to enforce a curfew, which is due to last until 6 a.m. Monday.
About two dozen opposition leaders protested against police barricades near Independence Square, some shouting ‘Gota[baya] Go home”.
“This is unacceptable,” said opposition leader Eran Wickramaratne, referring to the curfew and other restrictions.
Sri Lankan police armed with tear gas march along a main road as people protest against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a residential area after the government imposed a curfew following a clash between the police and protesters near the president’s residence during a protest amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 3. PHOTO: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte
Others stood in small groups outside their homes or gathered in the streets, some waving handwritten anti-government banners or waving the national flag.
“This government, we don’t want them anymore. They have had years and years to show us that they could change things, but there is nothing. The situation is only getting worse day by day”, said protester Anjalee Wanduragala, 22, a student. at the University of Colombo.
“We really need a change, we are being stripped of our basic rights…people are fed up,” she said.
Emergency powers in the past have allowed the military to arrest and detain suspects without a warrant, but the terms of the current powers are still unclear.
Western and Asian diplomats based in Sri Lanka said they were monitoring the situation and expected the government to allow citizens to hold peaceful protests.