Diplomats concerned about state of emergency in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: Diplomats and human rights groups expressed concern on Saturday after Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency and police used violence against peaceful protesters during the country’s worst economic crisis since recent memory.
The economic and political situation has sparked protests across the Indian Ocean island, demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and his powerful ruling family.
Rajapaksa issued a decree on Friday declaring a public emergency. He invoked sections of the Public Safety Ordinance that allow him to make regulations in the interests of public safety and order, and for the maintenance of essential supplies.
According to the emergency ordinances, Rajapaksa can authorize arrests, confiscate property and search all buildings. He can also amend or suspend any law.
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung tweeted on Saturday that she is “concerned” by the state of emergency, adding that “the voices of peaceful citizens must be heard”.
“And the very real challenges facing Sri Lankans require long-term solutions to put the country back on the path to prosperity and opportunity for all. The SOE (state of emergency) is not helping with that,” Chung added.
Canadian envoy David McKinnon said Sri Lankans have the right to peaceful protest under democracy and that it is “hard to understand why it is necessary to declare a state of emergency.”
The emergency declaration came on the same day that shops, offices, banks and schools across the country closed their doors and heeded calls for closure in protest against the president and his family. Unions have warned of continuing strikes from 11 May if they do not resign by then.
The government said on Saturday that a state of emergency has been declared to create political stability so that reforms can be implemented to resolve the economic crisis.
It also said the state of emergency would help create the necessary conditions for negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and other financial aid and debt relief agencies and countries.
“The emotional protests being staged in the capital and in many parts of the country have become a threat to public security,” a government statement said, adding that ongoing protests will only exacerbate economic difficulties.
Sri Lanka is almost bankrupt. It announced it is suspending repayment of its foreign loans and its usable foreign exchange reserves have fallen to less than $50 million. The country has $7 billion in foreign loan repayments this year, of the $25 billion due in 2026. Total foreign debt is $51 billion.
Police twice on Friday used tear gas and a water cannon against protesters near parliament who criticized lawmakers for failing to impeach the president and his government, which they believe are responsible for the economic crisis. Protesters are angry that large-majority lawmakers have elected a government-backed deputy speaker of parliament, while protesters say they should vote Rajapaksa’s government out of power.
Police first fired tear gas at a student-led protest that began Thursday following the election of the vice-chairman in what was seen as a major victory for the ruling coalition. Separately, police dispersed more protesters with tear gas on Friday evening, including near parliament.
The human rights group Amnesty International said the protests have been peaceful and authorities have unlawfully restricted the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Protesters have vowed to continue their demonstrations despite the emergency law, while the occupation of the entrance to the president’s office lasted 29 days on Saturday.

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