Economy

Protests in Sri Lanka: army on the streets and social networks blocked

Protests in Sri Lanka: army on the streets and social networks blocked
Written by on100dayloans

Social media was blocked in Sri Lanka on Sunday and armed soldiers deployed in the streets in an attempt to quell protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. They are fueled by the unprecedented economic crisis affecting the country.

“Sri Lanka has imposed a nationwide social media block, restricting access to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram,” said NetBlocks, a London-based site that monitors internet blockages at worldwide. AFP journalists in Sri Lanka found that none of these social networks were accessible on Sunday.

According to the pro-government channel Ada Derana, citing Sri Lanka’s media regulator, the Ministry of Defense has asked internet service providers to ‘temporarily restrict’ access to social media.

Before the blocking took effect, anonymous activists had launched calls on the internet for new massive demonstrations on Sunday. Hashtags hostile to power, such as #GoHomeRajapaksas (‘Outside the Rajapaksa’), have abounded on the web in recent days. ‘Don’t let the tear gas deter you, very soon they will run out of dollars to restock,’ urged a post on Saturday.

Police said a person was arrested on Friday for posting calls to disturb public order on the internet.

Call for restraint

Saturday evening, a few hundred people defied the state of emergency and the curfew decreed on Friday, by demonstrating peacefully in several districts of Colombo and its suburbs, according to the police and residents.

Loud protests in the cities of Maharagama, Homagama and Yakkala ended peacefully two hours after the curfew began. “There were police but they didn’t try to intervene,” a Yakkala resident told AFP by phone. Residents reported similar situations in Homagama and Maharagama. The nationwide curfew is due to be lifted Monday morning, police say.

US Ambassador Julie Chung warned on Twitter: ‘Sri Lankans have the right to peaceful protest, it’s essential for democratic expression…and I hope the next few days will be marked by the restraint of all parties.

Soldiers equipped with automatic weapons were deployed to control crowds at gas stations and elsewhere. In normal times, the army must content itself with a support role for the police. But with the state of emergency, it can intervene alone, in particular to arrest civilians.

President Rajapaksa justified these exceptional measures by the ‘protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community’.

Economic crisis

During the night from Thursday to Friday, hundreds of demonstrators marched towards his home to demand his resignation, before the police used tear gas and water cannons. Attacks on other politicians have been reported in recent days.

Mr Rajapaksa is a member of a ruling family once loved by much of the country’s Sinhalese majority for bringing an abrupt end to the ethnic civil war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009. But support for the Rajapaksa clan collapsed with the economic crisis.

The country of 22 million people is facing severe shortages of essential goods, a sharp rise in prices and long power cuts, in its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948.

Tourism and remittances from the diaspora, vital for the economy, have collapsed during the pandemic, and the authorities have imposed a wide ban on imports in an attempt to save foreign currency.

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