Friday marked the turning point in the crisis. Public anger boiled over and led to violent demonstrations
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a public emergency, a day after thousands took part in demonstrations and protests—which later turned violent— in the capital Colombo, seeking his resignation for failing to address the crippling economic crisis.
On Friday night, the government issued an extraordinary gazette notification, announcing the state of public emergency with immediate effect, justifying "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.”
For months, the country’s foreign exchange reserves have been barely enough to cover the import of essential imports, resulting in a crippling shortage and skyrocketing inflation. In recent days, the energy crisis worsened, forcing authorities to implement power cuts, sometimes up to 13 hours a day.
Long queues of people standing at fuel stations for hours across the country have become a common sight. With shortages of medicines and supplies, several hospitals are struggling to function normally.
Friday marked the turning point in the crisis. Public anger boiled over and led to violent demonstrations. Thousands of angry protestors in what appeared an attempt to storm the private residence of President Rajapaksa clashed with security forces and the army for hours.
In a tweet, UN Resident Coordinator said, “We are monitoring developments and are concerned by reports of violence in #SriLanka. Calling for restraint from all groups.”
However, the government appeared defiant, blaming extremist groups behind the violent protests. A senior minister went on to call them “terrorists”. Over 50 people were arrested following the incident.
A statement released by the Media Division of the President said, “Many of those involved in this violent incident have been arrested and many have been identified as organized extremists. They had led the protest shouting the slogans ‘let’s create an Arab Spring in this country.”
Significantly, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the country’s former prime minister, warned the government against such provocative statements. “Such comments would only exacerbate the already volatile situation,” he said while refuting claims of the protesters being led by extremists.
Terming the situation a result of the collapse of political order, Wickremesinghe said, “No one should be harmed in a peaceful protest. Violence must not be tolerated. People have the right to protest freely and peacefully.” Political parties, he advised, should not take part in citizen-centric protests.
Significantly, there were signs of cracks appearing in the ruling coalition and it might have prompted Rajapaksa to take drastic measures of imposing an emergency.
On Friday, an eleven-party alliance, part of the ruling coalition, asked the President to dissolve the current Cabinet of Ministers and sought the formation of an interim government with the involvement of all political parties.