Sri Lanka’s acting president declares a state of emergency during protests

Sri Lanka’s acting president declares a state of emergency during protests

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Sri Lanka’s acting president on Monday declared a state of emergency giving him broad authority amid growing protests demanding his resignation – just two days before the country’s lawmakers are to elect a new president.

Ranil Wickremesinghe became acting president on Friday after his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fled abroad and withdrew after months of mass protests over the country’s economic collapse.

Wickremesinghe’s introduction of the state of emergency came as protests demanding his resignation continued in most parts of the country, with some protesters burning him in the image.

The emergency decree invokes parts of the public safety ordinance that allow Wickremesinghe to make regulations for reasons of public safety and order. The authorities can approve detention, take possession of property and search premises. Wickremesinghe may also amend or suspend any law under the state of emergency.

Wickremesinghe said in a statement that negotiations on a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund are coming to an end, while discussions on aid abroad have continued. There have been no comments from the IMF on Wickremesinghe’s assessment of the rescue talks.

He said that relief was given to the people and that steps had been taken to address the shortage of fuel and cooking gas.

However, Wickremesinghe claimed that “elements of society” were trying to disrupt peace in Sri Lanka. He did not give details, but said that disturbances will not hinder the country’s progress.

Wickremesinghe said peaceful protesters with legitimate concerns would be engaged by the government and solutions found for them. He also urged political parties to put differences aside and form “an all-party government that will allow the country to recover from the economic crisis”.

There was no immediate response from political parties to his recent comments, but they have worked to try to form a coalition government.

Lawmakers who met on Saturday began the process of electing a new leader to serve the remainder of the period left by Rajapaksa. Nominations for the election of the new president will be made on Tuesday. If there is more than one candidate, lawmakers will vote on Wednesday.

The Sri Lankan Bar Association said the emergency laws “must not be used to suppress any legitimate statements about the election of the president, or to suppress any dissent or disagreement about a particular candidate.”

The association also stressed that these laws should not be used to “stifle peaceful protests and dissent or to make arbitrary arrests and detentions.”

Sri Lanka has for several months lacked the means to pay for the import of basic necessities such as food, fertilizers, medicines and fuel to its 22 million people. The country’s rapid economic downturn came as a surprise because the economy had expanded with a growing, comfortable middle class.

Sri Lanka is seeking help from the IMF and other creditors, but top officials have said the economy is in such poor shape that it has been difficult to get a rescue package.

The economic difficulties led to political upheavals and widespread protests demanding the resignation of the Rajapaksa-led government. Although many ministers resigned in April, Rajapaksa remained in power until last week, when he first flew to the Maldives and then to Singapore.

The main protests have taken place in the capital Colombo, where large crowds occupied the front of the president’s office for more than 100 days. Protesters stormed the president’s official residence and office on July 9, forcing Rajapaksa to flee.

Protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of sucking money from government coffers and speeding up the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the allegations of corruption, but Rajapaksa acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to the economic collapse.

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