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Sri Lanka extends emergency laws, protest leaders arrested

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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s parliament approved the extension of a state of emergency for a month in a bid to get a grip on a political and economic crisis that has forced a change of leadership, a lawmaker said, as Singapore permits Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stay in the island republic for an additional 14 days, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

Then acting-president Ranil Wickremesinghe had declared a state of emergency on July 17 and won a parliamentary vote to become president three days later, over a week after Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned from his post of president in the face of widespread protests.

The emergency ordinance, which allows for the military to be given powers to detain people for long periods, limit public gatherings and search private property would have lapsed on Wednesday if it had not been ratified by parliament. The extension meant it would continue for a month before it must be approved again, the lawmaker said.

Also on Wednesday, ex-president Rajapaksa was granted permission to stay a further 14 days in Singapore, where he had landed two weeks ago via the Maldives, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. The extension would last until August 11, they said.

Rajapaksa allowed to stay in Singapore for two more weeks; more protesters nabbed amid crackdown

Singapore’s immigration authority did not respond to a request for confirmation of the move. The Singaporean government said he had not been granted asylum but was in the country on a private visit.

“It is my belief he may eventually consider returning to Sri Lanka but there is no definite political or other stance on this,” Sri Lankan government spokesperson Bandula Gunwardena said on Tuesday. If Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka, he might not be protected under law if any charges were filed against him, legal experts said.

Wickremesinghe, who served six terms as prime minister, has outlined plans to have a donor conference involving India, China and Japan after Sri Lanka secures a rescue line from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He said on July 18 that negotiations with the IMF were nearing a conclusion. China is Sri Lanka’s third-biggest lender, behind international financial markets and the Asian Development Bank. Japan is also a major lender.

Over the last decade and a half, China has lent Sri Lanka more than $5 billion for projects including highways, a port, an airport and a coal power plant. Sri Lanka is in talks with China for up to $4 billion in assistance to help navigate the financial crisis.

Ex-president Rajapaksa had been blamed for mismanaging the nation’s finances and steering the economy into a tailspin after the country ran out of foreign currency needed to import vital goods. Public anger simmered for months in Sri Lanka before the huge demonstration on July 9 that brought an end to Rajapaksa’s rule. Rajapaksa was forced to flee when tens of thousands of protesters stormed his residence in the capital Colombo. He later flew to Singapore and tendered his resignation while his successor Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency and vowed a tough line against “trouble-makers”.

As parliament extended tough emergency laws imposed to restore order, police arrested two activists who helped lead mass demonstrations that toppled Sri Lanka’s president. Police said they had arrested activists Kusal Sandaruwan and Weranga Pushpika on unlawful assembly charges. After Rajapaksa fled, Sandaruwan was seen in social media footage counting a large cache of banknotes found in the president’s home. Police have also released photographs of 14 suspects wanted in connection with an arson attack on Wickremesinghe’s home on the same day the president’s office and residence were overrun. The arrests of the two activists come a day after student leader Dhaniz Ali was nabbed when he boarded a Dubai-bound flight.

Police last week demolished the capital’s main anti-government protest camp in a pre-dawn assault that raised alarm among foreign diplomats and rights groups.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2022


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