Opposition lawmakers in Sri Lanka protest state of emergency

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Opposition lawmakers in Sri Lanka marched in the capital Colombo on Sunday to protest the president’s attempt to impose a curfew and state of emergency amid a deepening economic crisis.

Netizens in most of Sri Lanka were also unable to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on Sunday after they were used to organize demonstrations calling for and saying President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation , he was responsible for the country’s economic hardships.

Netblocks, a global internet monitor, confirmed that network data collected from over 100 vantage points across Sri Lanka showed the restrictions taking effect from midnight for multiple providers.

A nationwide curfew is in effect in Sri Lanka from Saturday night to Monday morning after Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency and assumed emergency powers at midnight on Friday. More protests were planned across the country on Sunday as anger boiled over over shortages of essential food, fuel and lengthy power outages.

Rajapaksa’s declaration of emergency gives him sweeping powers to maintain public order, quell mutinies, riots or civil unrest, or to maintain basic services. In an emergency, the President can authorize arrests, confiscation of property, and searches of premises. He can also amend or repeal any law other than the Constitution.

In an apparent attempt to defy Rajapaksa’s order, lawmakers marched in Colombo’s main square shouting slogans and carrying placards reading “Stop the Repression” and “Go Home”. Gota is a shortened version of the President’s first name. Armed soldiers and policemen set up barricades on the road leading to the square built to commemorate the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.

Sri Lanka faces huge debt burdens and dwindling foreign exchange reserves, and struggles to pay for imports have led to a lack of basic services. People wait in long lines for gas, and power is out for several hours a day because there is not enough fuel to run power plants and dry weather has depleted hydroelectric capacity.

The island nation’s economic woes are blamed on successive governments’ failure to diversify exports, relying instead on traditional sources of money such as tea, clothing and tourism, and a culture of consuming imported goods.

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to the economy, with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion over the past two years. The protesters also point to mismanagement – Sri Lanka has immense external debts after borrowing heavily on projects that don’t make money. Foreign debt repayment obligations for this year alone total about $7 billion.

The crisis has affected people from all walks of life. Middle-class professionals and businessmen, who would not normally take part in street protests, have held late-night rallies with candles and placards in many parts of the country.

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