Protests erupt in Sri Lanka as government continues IMF talks

The country has seen weeks of relative calm following the ousting of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa

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Protests have resumed in Sri Lanka after a period of relative calm, following the government’s lifting of a state of emergency on May 21.

Hundreds of students marched in Colombo on Thursday, with police firing teargas and water cannon to disperse the crowds. A number of people were arrested by the police, who carried riot shields and batons.

A police official told AFP that Wasantha Mudalige, leader of the Inter-University Student Federation, was among six people taken into custody.

In March, at least nine people were killed and hundreds injured when mass protests gripped the country, after the government ran out of funds to pay for vital imports, while prices for essential goods soared.

Demonstrators, furious with collapsing services and fuel shortages, clashed with security forces, taking over the presidential palace and burning down the prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s house, forcing him and president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and relinquish power.

On 21 July, Parliament elected opposition politician Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new president who would rule for what remained of president Rajapaksa’s term. Mr Wickremesinghe has since attempted a national dialogue, reaching out to protesters to discuss their grievances.

Police said they used minimum force in Thursday's protest and only arrested those who attacked officers or damaged state property.

Mr Wickremesinghe announced this week that his government would not renew the state of emergency it imposed last month, after hundreds of thousands of people stormed the home of his predecessor.

The measure had been widely criticised by rights groups as a draconian limit on freedom.

Student groups have since tried to drum up support for protests against Mr Wickremesinghe, but the response has so far been muted. But a long economic recovery awaits the nation of 22 million people.

The country defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in mid-April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund over a bailout.

Updated: August 18, 2022, 4:08 PM
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