© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka’s former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was appointed as the new Prime Minister, gestures during the swearing in ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka Novermber 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
By Alasdair Pal and Uditha Jayasinghe
COLOMBO (Reuters) -Streets in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo were calm on Saturday after the president declared a state of emergency following escalating anti-government protests.
Details of the latest emergency regulations were not yet made public, but previous emergency laws have given greater powers to the president to deploy the military, detain people without charge and break up protests. [L2N2WY1RR]
“The President has taken this decision due to the public emergency situation in Sri Lanka and in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” a statement released by his office said.
There were no initial reports of late-night disturbances following the emergency declaration shortly before midnight, while traffic proceeded as normal in Galle Face, a central area of Colombo that has been a major site of protests and marches.
At the main protest site in the city outside the Presidential Secretariat, around 100 people gathered to listen to anti-government speeches despite the state of emergency, while passing cars sounded their horns in support.
“This emergency will not stop the protests,” said Waheeda Lafir, a teacher delivering food supplies to the village of tents that has stood at the site for almost a month.
“The government has brought this on themselves, they should resign.”
The announcement – the second time President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared emergency law in little over a month – drew condemnation from Sri Lanka’s opposition and several western countries.
“Concerned by another state of emergency,” United States ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung said in a tweet.
“The voices of peaceful citizens need to be heard.”
On Friday police fired tear gas at dozens of demonstrators outside parliament, in the latest in more than a month of sporadically violent anti-government protests amid shortages of imported food, fuel and medicines.
Aid agency UNICEF said it was concerned that children had been among those affected by the tear gas.
“Every adult must act with a sense of responsibility and avoid exposing children to any form of violence, including during protests,” it said in a statement.
Hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising oil prices and government tax cuts, Sri Lanka has been left with as little as $50 million in useable foreign reserves, the finance minister said this week.
The country has approached the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
The IMF will meet with Sri Lankan officials in a virtual meeting beginning on Monday, a statement from Masahiro Nozaki, the IMF’s mission chief for Sri Lanka, said on Saturday.
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