COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president has revoked a days-old state of emergency after huge public protests demanded his resignation following the country’s worst economic crisis in memory.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resisted calls even after ruling party lawmakers said an interim government should replace his own and failure to do so would blame them for the violence.
The executive order Rajapaksa issued on Tuesday evening says he revoked emergency orders that had given him authority to act in the interest of public safety and maintain public order, including suspending all laws, authorizing detentions and seizing property.
Rajapaksa had declared an emergency last week after crowds of protesters demonstrated near his home in the capital Colombo. The protests first started over shortages of essentials such as cooking gas, petrol, electricity and powdered milk. They have spread to all parts of the Indian Ocean island nation and now protesters are demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and his government.
Television and social media footage from Monday showed protesters storming into the offices and homes of ruling party lawmakers and vandalizing some premises. On Tuesday, lawmakers in the first new session of parliament since the protests began asked the president to ensure their safety.
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 anger.
The Cabinet resigned on Sunday evening and Rajapaksa called on all parties to join a unity government, but the main opposition party rejected the proposal. On Tuesday, nearly 40 ruling coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote under the coalition’s instructions, significantly weakening the government.
Sri Lanka has huge debts and dwindling foreign exchange reserves, making it unable to pay for imported goods.
For several months, Sri Lankans have been queuing to buy fuel, food and medicine, most of which comes from abroad and is paid for in hard currency. Fuel shortages, along with reduced hydroelectric capacity in dry weather, have caused power cuts that last for hours each day.
Rajapaksa said last month his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and turned to China and India for loans while calling on people to limit fuel and electricity use.