Sri Lanka police impose 36-hour curfew to quell unrest

Police in Sri Lanka have announced a 36-hour curfew ahead of planned mass anti-government protests against worsening shortages of food, fuel and medicine in the South Asian island nation.

The curfew will go into effect at dusk on Saturday and be lifted on Monday morning, police said a day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a state of emergency giving authorities sweeping powers in the wake of mass protests against the unprecedented economic crisis.

The curfew and state of emergency, which gives the army authority to act alone, including arresting civilians, in the country of 22 million came as social media posts called for protests on Sunday.

“Do not be deterred by tear gas, very soon they will run out of dollars to re-stock,” said one post encouraging people to demonstrate even if police attempt to break up gatherings.

The ire of a mob in the near-bankrupt country was directed on Saturday at a woman identified as a soothsayer frequently consulted by Rajapaksa in the northern town of Anuradhapura.

Rights activist and former opposition legislator Hirunika Premachandra led dozens of women to storm seer Gnana Akka’s shrine and residence, but armed police stopped them.

“Why are police protecting a shaman?” she asked a senior officer who physically blocked her march, as seen on a Facebook live video, verified by AFP as authentic.

“Thief, thief, Gota thief,” the crowds chanted after armed security personnel stopped them.

“Think of the country and let us pass,” another woman activist pleaded.

“#GoHomeRajapaksas” and “#GotaGoHome” have been trending for days on Twitter and Facebook in the country, which is battling severe shortages of essentials, sharp price rises and crippling power cuts in its most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

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