September 26, 2023

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Sri Lanka protesters defy curfew, police fire tear gas at students

Sri Lanka protesters defy curfew, police fire tear gas at students
  • Peaceful anti-government demonstrations across Colombo
  • The government lifts the ban on social media platforms after several hours
  • The curfew ends Monday morning

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Demonstrators in Sri Lanka’s largest city, Colombo, staged several small, peaceful demonstrations against a severe economic crisis on Sunday, in defiance of a nationwide curfew, as police used tear gas to disperse student protesters 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 about 750 participants but no arrests were made,” said police spokesman Nihal Tldwa.

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Teldwa said that more than 600 people arrested in the western region on Saturday night for breaching curfew orders were released on bail by the police and will be charged at a later time.

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 after protests turned violent.

On Sunday afternoon, the government lifted the ban it had imposed on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp hours earlier. The head of the Communications Regulatory Commission, Jayantha de Silva, said the measure was carried out on the instructions of the Ministry of Defense and was aimed at “maintaining calm”. De Silva later told Reuters the restrictions had been lifted.

While the ban was in place, Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, the president’s nephew, sent out a tweet saying that he would “never condone the social media blocking”.

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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.

Social media recovery

In Colombo, soldiers armed with assault rifles and police set up checkpoints to enforce the curfew, which is set to last until 6 am (0030 GMT) on Monday.

More than two dozen opposition leaders protested at police barricades near Independence Square, some chanting “Gotha (Baya) go home.”

“This is unacceptable,” opposition leader Eran Wickramartne said, referring to the curfew and other restrictions.

Others stood in small groups outside their homes or gathered in the street, some carrying handwritten anti-government signs or waving the national flag.

said protester Anjali Wanduragala, 22, a student at Colombo University.

“We really need to change, we’ve been stripped of our basic rights… People are tired,” she said.

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.

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, William Mallard and Raisa Kasulowski

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