Sri Lanka gives emergency powers to army, police kill seven after clashes

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Tuesday issued emergency powers to the military and police to detain people without warrants after a day of clashes that left seven people dead and more than 200 injured in violence that led Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to depose steps.
As the Indian Ocean country experiences its worst economic crisis in history, thousands of protesters had defied curfews to attack government figures and set fire to the homes, shops and businesses of ruling party lawmakers and provincial politicians.
Despite sporadic reports of unrest, the situation had calmed down on Tuesday, police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa said, adding that around 200 people had also been injured in violence that led to a curfew across the island until 7 a.m. (0130 GMT) the following day.
The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the prime minister’s younger brother, outlined broad powers for the military and police to detain and interrogate people without warrants.
The military can detain people for up to 24 hours before being handed over to the police, while private property can be forcibly searched, including private vehicles, the government said in a state gazette on Tuesday.
“Anyone arrested by a police officer should be taken to the nearest police station,” it said, setting a 24-hour deadline for the armed forces to do the same.
Some analysts expressed concern about the possibility of misuse of the emergency measures.
“In a situation where there is both a state of emergency and a curfew, who can check that these rules are not being abused?” said Bhavani Fonseka, of the think tank Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo.
The president had already declared a state of emergency on Friday as protests escalated.
Day of Violence
The attacks on government figures were in apparent retaliation for an incident hours before Rajapaksa’s resignation.
Rajapaksa spoke to hundreds of supporters on Monday who had gathered at his official residence after reports that he was considering stepping down.
After his remarks, many of them armed with iron bars stormed a camp of those who protested against the government, beat them and set fire to their tents.
According to Reuters witnesses, police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse the clashes after initially doing little to stop government supporters.
Thousands took to the streets to celebrate after Rajapaksa’s resignation, but the mood soon became tense.
Protesters tried to tear down the gates of Temple Trees, his residence in downtown Colombo, where broken glass and discarded shoes littered surrounding streets Tuesday, following some of the night’s worst clashes.
Military forces patrolled the area, where eight burned vehicles were partially submerged in a lake. Discarded files and wrecked equipment were scattered across the ransacked offices of government officials.
Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis follows a pandemic that hit key tourism revenues, leaving the government grappling with rising oil prices and the impact of populist tax cuts.
It has enlisted the help of multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as Asian giants India and China.
Former finance minister Ali Sabry, who resigned Monday along with the rest of Rajapaksa’s cabinet, has said usable foreign reserves are only $50 million.
Shortages of fuel, food and medicine have sent thousands to the streets in more than a month of protests that had been largely peaceful until this week.

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