Sri Lanka's acting president declares state of emergency

Ranil Wickremesinghe's order comes as Parliament prepares to elect successor to head of state forced out of office last week by protesters

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Sri Lanka's acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency, as the country faces further protests over a months-long economic crisis that has caused acute shortages and surging prices.

“It is expedient, so to do, 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,” a government notice released on Sunday said.

Under the emergency regulations, Mr Wickremesinghe can authorise detentions, take possession of any property and search any premises. He can also change or suspend any law.

Mr Wickremesinghe is a leading contender to assume the presidency after protesters last week forced former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee abroad, from where he submitted his resignation.

Parliament will receive nominations for the post on Tuesday, and will hold a vote on Wednesday.

Sajith Premadasa, leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya alliance, is another leading candidate, along with Dullas Alahapperuma, a senior ruling party MP who served as minister of mass media and a Cabinet spokesman.

Mr Rajapaksa's resignation was accepted by Parliament on Friday.

He flew to the Maldives and then to Singapore after hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Colombo a week ago, before storming his official residence and office.

His brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister in May, leading to Mr Wickremesinghe being asked to form a new government for his sixth term as the country's prime minister.

Protesters have said they will not accept Mr Wickremesinghe — an ally of the Rajapaksas — as president, raising the prospect of further unrest should he be elected.

Demonstrators accuse Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers and of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy.

The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Gotabaya Rajapaksa acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to Sri Lanka’s meltdown.

Sri Lanka has run short of money to pay for imports of basic necessities such as food, fertiliser, medicine and fuel for its 22 million people.

It is seeking help from the International Monetary Fund and other creditors, but top officials say its finances are so poor that even obtaining a bailout has proven difficult.

The main protests have occurred in the capital, Colombo, where protesters occupied the front of the president’s office for more than 100 days.

Updated: July 18, 2022, 7:26 AM