Amid protests, chaos & Emergency, India sends food, fuel to Sri Lanka

Rajapaksa's office blamed organized extremists within the thousands of protesters for violence during Thursday night's demonstration, where police fired tear gas and a water cannon and arrested 54 people

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka,
Former Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa visits areas hit by violent clashes due to the economic crisis in the country | PTI/AP Photo

A day after Sri Lanka’s President declared a state of emergency in the Island nation on Saturday, prompted by angry protesters demanding his resignation, India sent food and fuel supplies to the crisis-hit neighbour.

The Sri Lankan government also imposed a weekend curfew on Saturday starting 6 pm and ending at 6 am on Monday.

“Under the powers given to the president, curfew has been imposed countrywide from 6 p.m. (1230 GMT) on Saturday to 6 a.m. (0030 GMT) on Monday,” the government’s information department said in a statement.

Indian traders sent 40,000 tonnes of rice to Sri Lanka in the first major food aid since Colombo secured credit line from New Delhi, according to a Reuters report.


Indian Oil Corporation also supplied  6,000 MT of fuel to the Ceylon Electricity Board on Saturday, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka said. A consignment of 40,000 MT of diesel through Line of Credit of $500 million was handed over to the Energy Minister Gamini Lokuge in Colombo today.

Plans were afoot for a nationwide protest over the country’s worst economic crisis in memory.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invoked sections of the Public Security Ordinance, which gives him authority to make regulations in the interests of public security, preservation of public order, suppression of mutiny, riot or civil commotion or for the maintenance of essential supplies.

Under the emergency regulations, the President can authorize detentions, taking possession of any property and search any premises. He can also change or suspend any law.

The order came a day after dozens of people were arrested following protests near the President’s home. There are also calls for an island-wide public protest on Sunday.

Rajapaksa’s office blamed organized extremists within the thousands of protesters for violence during Thursday night’s demonstration, where police fired tear gas and a water cannon and arrested 54 people. Dozens of other people were also injured.

Nuwan Bopage, an attorney representing some of the suspects, said several of them were being taken for medical examinations for various injuries and were to appear in court Friday.

A police curfew in the suburbs of the capital, Colombo, was lifted Friday morning.

The protesters blamed Rajapaksa for long power outages and shortages of essential goods.

Demand for all-party govt

Sri Lanka’s former president Maithripala Sirisena’s Freedom Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, urged President Gotabaya to form an all-party government to tide over the economic crisis and warned that it may leave the alliance if its request was ignored.

Party’s general secretary and a state minister Dayasiri Jayasekera said that the Central Committee decided on Friday to urge for the formation of a government representing all parties in Parliament.

Sri Lanka has huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves, and its struggle to pay for imports has caused shortages. People wait in long lines for fuel, and power is cut for several hours daily because theres not enough fuel to operate generating plants and dry weather has sapped hydropower capacity.

On Thursday, the crowds demonstrating along the roads leading to Rajapaksas private residence on the outskirts of Colombo stoned two army buses that police were using to block the protesters. They set fire to one of the buses and turned back a fire truck that rushed to douse it.

Senior police spokesperson Ajith Rohana told media that 24 police personnel and several other civilians were injured in the unrest, and protesters torched several vehicles belonging to the police and army. Total damage was estimated to be around $132,000 and the suspects will be charged with damaging public property, Rohana said.

Reporters asked Rohana about accusations that police officers manhandled journalists covering the protests, including the arrest of at least one of them. Rohana said police followed the rules for riot control and took action only after the protest turned violent more than four hours after it started.

Sri Lankas economic woes are blamed on successive governments not diversifying exports and relying on traditional cash sources like tea, garments and tourism, and on a culture of consuming imported goods.

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to Sri Lanka’s economy, with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion in the last two years.

Sri Lanka also has immense foreign debt after borrowing heavily on projects that don’t earn money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations are around $7 billion for this year alone.

According to the Central Bank, inflation rose to 17.5% in February from 16.8% a month earlier. It’s expected to continue rising because the government has allowed the local currency to float freely.