Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency for the second time in five weeks on Friday, giving sweeping powers to security forces as a nationwide strike demanding his resignation brought the country to a standstill.
A spokesman for the president said he invoked tough laws to “ensure public order” after shops closed and public transport was halted by unions on Friday, blaming him for the unprecedented economic crisis, which has sparked weeks of unrest.
Earlier Friday, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse students trying to storm the national parliament demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation.
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The emergency gives broad powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without judicial oversight.
It also allows for the deployment of troops to maintain law and order in addition to the police.
“The president used his executive powers to invoke emergency regulations to ensure the maintenance of essential services and public order,” the spokesman said.
He said the laws will take effect from midnight on Friday.
The beleaguered Rajapaksa had previously declared a state of emergency on April 1, a day after thousands of protesters tried to storm his private home in the capital. That emergency was allowed to expire on April 14.
But the protests have since intensified. The new emergency declaration came as thousands of protesters stood outside Rajapaksa’s waterfront office, where they have been protesting since April 9, and smaller groups attempted to storm the homes of other key government politicians.
The 85,000-strong police force had beefed up security for all ruling party lawmakers.
But they were at the limit and had asked the security forces to reinforce them.
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