(AFP): Sri Lanka has imposed a curfew on Monday after clashes erupted between government supporters and citizen protesters as anger builds over the island’s worst economic crisis since independence.
Months of blackouts and dire shortages of food, fuel and medicines have caused widespread suffering across the South Asian island and weeks of overwhelmingly peaceful anti-government protests.
Local news reports also said the military was called out in Colombo to quell the violence. Television on Monday showed groups setting fire to tents put up by demonstrators outside the prime minister’s official residence. At least 20 people were injured in the violence in central Colombo, according to officials.
Rajapaksa loyalists armed with sticks and clubs attacked unarmed protesters who have been camping outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office since April 9, AFP reporters said.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, urged “the general public to exercise restraint and remember that violence only begets violence.”
“The economic crisis we’re in needs an economic solution which this administration is committed to resolving,” the island’s chief executive tweeted.
On Friday, the government imposed a state of emergency granting the military sweeping powers to arrest and detain people after trade unions brought the country to a virtual standstill hoping to pressure the Rajapaksas to step down.
The defence ministry said in a statement on Sunday that anti-government demonstrators were behaving in a “provocative and threatening manner” and disrupting essential services.
Unions said they would stage daily protests from Monday to pressure the government to revoke the emergency. Union leader Ravi Kumudesh said they will mobilise both state and private sector workers to storm the national parliament when it opens its next session on May 17.
President Rajapaksa has not been seen in public since tens of thousands attempted to storm his private residence in Colombo on March 31.
Sri Lanka’s crisis began after the coronavirus pandemic hammered vital income from tourism and remittances. This left it short of foreign currency needed to pay off its debt, forcing the government to ban the imports of many goods.
This in turn has led to severe shortages, runaway inflation and lengthy power blackouts. In April, the country announced it was defaulting on its $51 billion foreign debt.