Sri Lanka extends state of emergency as police round up protest leaders

Two activists who helped lead mass demonstrations that toppled Sri Lanka’s president have been arrested, police said, as parliament extended tough emergency laws imposed to restore order.

Then acting-president Ranil Wickremesinghe had declared a state of emergency on 17 July. It allows for the military to be given powers to detain people, limit public gatherings and search private property. The emergency ordinance would have lapsed on Wednesday if it had not been ratified by parliament.

The extension means it will continue for a month before it must be approved again, one lawmaker said.

Police said in separate statements on Wednesday that they had arrested activists Kusal Sandaruwan and Weranga Pushpika on unlawful assembly charges.

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 detained when he boarded a Dubai-bound flight at the country’s main airport.

Police said there was a warrant for his arrest in connection with a magistrates court case, without giving further details.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled under the cover of darkness in a military jet earlier this month after protesters took over his house and presidential offices, demanding he resign.

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”.

Many had presumed that Rajapaksa would remain out of the country in self-imposed exile in order to avoid possible prosecution for accusations of corruption and war crimes allegations that date back over a decade.

However, he is expected to return home, according to one cabinet minister.

His apparent decision to return to Sri Lanka could be in part because he has few other options for travel. Human rights groups and lawyers said they had been pressuring countries behind the scenes not to accept him and, according to reports, the US embassy declined to give him a visa. The US was seen to be Rajapaksa’s favoured final destination as his son and grandchild live there and he is a former citizen.

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.

Public anger simmered for months in Sri Lanka before the huge demonstration on 9 July that brought an end to Rajapaksa’s rule.

He 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.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have endured months of lengthy blackouts, record inflation and shortages of food, fuel and petrol.

Protesters had also demanded the resignation of Wickremesinghe and accused him of protecting the Rajapaksa clan, who have dominated Sri Lankan politics for much of the past two decades.

The Guardian