US and European diplomats on Saturday urged the besieged president of Sri Lanka to lift the state of emergency imposed after a general strike stopped the bankrupt country.
Months of blackouts and severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine have caused widespread suffering across the South Asian island nation, which is experiencing its worst economic recession ever.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday declared a new state of emergency after weeks of protests calling for his government to step down over the mismanagement of the crisis.
American ambassador Julie Chung said she was “worried” about the second state of emergency in as many months, adding that the deepening of Sri Lanka economic crisis and the political congestion needed long-term solutions.
“The state of emergency won’t help to do that,” Chung said on Twitter.
The European Union said the ordinance “could have a counterproductive effect” and noted that a month of anti-government protests has so far been peaceful.
A spokesman for Rajapaksa said a state of emergency was imposed to “ensure public order” after Friday’s general strike disrupted public transport and economic activity.
The measure gives the military broad detention powers and allows the president to pass laws without parliamentary approval.
Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on April 1, the day after thousands of protesters attempted to storm his home in the capital Colombo.
It was allowed to expire days later, but since then the protests have escalated and spread to every corner of the island.
Thousands of people have been camped outside Rajapaksa’s waterfront office for nearly a month to demand his resignation.
On Friday, police fired a barrage of tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse student protesters who were blocking parliament.
The government said in a statement on Saturday that Sri Lanka was facing “the worst economic crisis and political instability ever”.
“A state of emergency was declared to guarantee political stability, a vital condition for overcoming the current socio-economic crisis”, adds the statement.
The emergency declaration is a major blow to Sri Lanka’s vital tourism industry, which was slowly recovering after being paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Tour operators will be reluctant because the emergency also means higher insurance premiums applicable to problem spots,” a Colombo hotel manager told AFP.
Government sources said the president could ask his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, to step down in an effort to pave the way for a united administration to address the Sri Lankan crisis.
But Sri Lanka’s largest opposition party has already said it will not join any government led by a member of the Rajapaksa clan.
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis took hold after the pandemic hit tourism and remittance revenues.
Unable to pay for fuel imports, utility companies have imposed daily blackouts on the electricity ration as long lines of people wind their way around petrol and kerosene filling stations.
Hospitals are running out of vital medicines and the government has appealed to citizens abroad for donations.
Last month, Sri Lanka announced that it defaulted on its $ 51 billion foreign debt.
Finance Minister Ali Sabry warned this week that the country will have to endure unprecedented economic hardship for at least another two years.