Sri Lanka's state of emergency revoked as president loses majority

Countrywide protests flare up over shortages in fuel, gas and other essentials

A state of emergency in Sri Lanka has been revoked after mass protests calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be removed as the country’s economic crisis worsens.

On Tuesday, Mr Rajapaksa issued a decree revoking the state of emergency, which gave him sweeping powers, days after it was declared.

Protests were sparked by shortages in fuel and gas, electricity and other essentials but, after spreading across the country, led to calls for the president to step down as members of his own party called for an interim government to take over.

The president’s ruling party is now a minority in parliament after 42 legislators from his coalition declared they were no longer affiliated with it.

"If we don't act now, there will be a river of blood in the country," said Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, one of the latest members to defect from Mr Rajapaksa’s party.

"We have to forget party politics and ensure an interim government."

Mr Rajapaksa no longer has the 113 MPs needed to maintain a simple majority and has refused to resign.

"May I remind you that 6.9 million people voted for the president," Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said in parliament in response to criticism from the opposition and cries of "Go home Gota".

"As a government, we are clearly saying the president will not resign under any circumstances. We will face this."

After Mr Fernando's speech, nearly 200 doctors, some in their blue scrubs, marched down a road by a national hospital in the commercial capital Colombo, chanting slogans against the government.

Some held a banner saying: "Strengthen people's right to live. Declare a health emergency."

After the Cabinet’s resignation on Saturday, the president invited parties to join a unity government to resolve the country’s crisis.

But opposition leaders demanded a change to the country’s constitution to limit the president’s executive powers before they agree to join a caretaker government.

As the protests raged on for the fifth consecutive day, dozens of people were arrested and many said they were tortured by security officials.

The UN Human Rights Council said it was closely watching the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka, which is already facing international censure over its human rights record.

"The drift towards militarisation and the weakening of institutional checks and balances in Sri Lanka have affected the state's ability to effectively tackle the economic crisis," the UNHRC said.

The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, continue to hold power in Sri Lanka, despite their politically powerful family being the focus of public ire.

Sri Lanka has huge debts and dwindling foreign reserves, leaving it unable to pay for imported goods.

For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long queues to buy fuel, foods and medicines, most of which comes from abroad and is paid for in hard currency. The fuel shortage, along with lower hydropower capacity in dry weather, has caused rolling power cuts lasting hours each day.

Mr Rajapaksa last month said his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and turned to China and India for loans while he appealed to people to limit the use of fuel and electricity.

Updated: April 06, 2022, 2:28 PM
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