May 27, 2024

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Sri Lanka police fire tear gas to stop protests amid curfew

Sri Lanka police fire tear gas to stop protests amid curfew

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas at hundreds of student protesters in central Sri Lanka on Sunday as soldiers manned checkpoints in the capital to enforce a curfew to curb public anger over an economic crisis, a federal lawmaker said. .

Lakshman Kirila, an MP from Kandy, the second largest city, said the police used tear gas to disperse students protesting against the government near Peradeniya University.

“These students came out defying the curfew and the police fired tear gas to disperse them,” said Kirila of the opposition Samajji Jana Balujaya party. He said the university is located on the outskirts of Kandy, where the students were stopped by the police.

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Police officials in Kandy did not return calls from Reuters seeking comment.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday as the Indian Ocean island nation grapples with soaring prices, shortages of necessities and blackouts. On Saturday, the government implemented a nationwide curfew as protests turned violent. And work continues until 6 am (0030 GMT) on Monday. Read more

Critics say the roots of the crisis, the worst in several decades, lie in economic mismanagement by successive governments that have accumulated massive budget and current account deficits.

The crisis was accelerated by the deep tax cuts promised by Rajapaksa during the 2019 election campaign that were enacted months before the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out parts of Sri Lanka’s economy.

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In the capital, Colombo, on Sunday, about two dozen opposition leaders stopped at police barricades on their way to Independence Square, some chanting “Gota (Baya) go home.”

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“This is unacceptable,” said opposition leader Eran Wickramartne, bending over the barricades. “This is a democracy.”

Small groups in Colombo were standing outside their homes to protest, some holding handwritten banners, others waving national flags.

In the afternoon, the government lifted the ban it had imposed on social media platforms hours earlier. Internet watchdog NetBlocks said access to Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram has been blocked across the country.

Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, the president’s nephew, said in a tweet that he “will not condone the blocking of social media”.

Emergency powers in the past allowed the military to arrest and detain suspects without arrest warrants, but the current authorities’ conditions are not yet clear.

Soldiers with assault rifles and policemen set up checkpoints in Colombo on Sunday.

Nihal Teldwa, chief police officer, said 664 people who violated curfew rules were arrested by police in Western Province, the country’s most populous administrative region, which includes Colombo.

Western and Asian diplomats based in Sri Lanka said they are monitoring the situation and expect the government to allow citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations.

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Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and William Mallard

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.