Colombo, Sri Lanka – Hundreds of people are rallying in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after authorities blocked access to social media platforms and impose a curfew to stop protests over an economic crisis that is getting worse.
Dozens of politicians from the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) coalition and its supporters gathered near Colombo’s Independence Square despite Sunday’s curfew, chanting “Go home, Gota, about home”, a reference to the president’s nickname, while other supporters of the opposition coalition Jathika Jana Balawegaya also gathered in a town on the outskirts of the capital to protest soaring inflation, food shortages and food shortages. and cut off the power.
At Independence Square in downtown Colombo, the streets of protesters were blocked by police and soldiers armed with assault rifles.
Sajith Premadasa, the opposition leader, begged security forces to allow the march to take place.
“People can’t live, this is a peaceful protest,” he said. “Why is there a curfew? Is there a threat to national security? Tsunami? A curfew was imposed to save the Rajapaksas from public anger.”
Rajapaksa – who’s brother? hold important positions in his government, including the posts of prime minister and finance minister – deployed the army to the streets after announcing State of emergency and a 36-hour curfew beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The move is seen by many as an attempt to stave off nationwide protests planned for Sunday.
Meanwhile, the telecom regulator blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube on Sunday, as well as messaging platforms WhatsApp and Viber. The agency said this was done at the behest of the defense minister.
Netblocks, a global monitoring group, confirmed the outage, saying it took effect after midnight on Sunday.
In a clear sign of disagreement within the government, Sri Lanka’s Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, the president’s grandson, said he would “never tolerate social media blocking” and urged “the authorities to think more forward and reconsider this decision”.
Dozens of people were arrested
Rajapaksa’s calls to step down come as Sri Lanka grapples with what some analysts call its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain. Sparkled by a forex crisisThe recession made it impossible for the government to pay for fuel importfood, medicine and other necessities and lead to a continuous power outage for up to 10 hours.
Sri Lankans held small, peaceful protests over the economic disasters throughout March, but when the government announced After a power cut that lasted until 13 hours on Thursday, hundreds of people poured into the streets near the president’s private residence in Colombo, with some trying to get past the barricades leading to the building.
Conflict Later, with protesters setting fire to several military vehicles and police arresting 54 people. All but six have since been released.
Police also arrested on Friday, prominent activist Thisara Anurudhdha Bandara, who was the administrator of a popular Facebook group called “Go Home Gota”. He was charged with inciting public unrest, but his lawyer Malaka Palliyaguruge described Bandara’s arrest as an attempt to stifle freedom of expression.
The lawyer told Al Jazeera: “The government cannot arrest people for saying ‘Gota go home’ and there is no evidence that violence was incited.
Bandara was released on bail on Saturday amid widespread public support, including from the country’s human rights commission which opened an investigation into police actions.
Amid the tension, Sri Lanka’s Public Utilities Commission on Saturday said Sunday’s scheduled power cut had been reduced from six hours scheduled to one hour and 40 minutes.
PUCSL said it has received enough diesel to generate electricity.
Meanwhile, the Energy Department said it expected to receive 6,000 tonnes of diesel from the Petroleum Corporation of India and another 12,000 tonnes of diesel from the Indian government, according to a credit. Shipments will arrive on Wednesday and Thursday, it said.
In Maharagama, on the outskirts of Colombo, crowds protested that the government’s measures were inappropriate.
“Gota has to go home. Let one person who can run the country, do this,” said KD Lala Kantha, a former lawmaker. “There are many serious problems and the government has no answers.”