Curfew in Sri Lanka as protesters try to storm president’s house

Police in Sri Lanka have imposed a curfew in the country’s capital following clashes with protesters who tried to storm President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence amid a worsening economic crisis that has resulted in 13-hour-long rolling blackouts.

In a statement to the media late on Thursday, Inspector General of Police C D Wickramaratne said the curfew will last “until further notice” in several areas of Colombo.

The move came after hundreds of protesters in the capital’s Mirihana district threw stones and clashed with police in riot gear as they pushed through the first line of barricades blocking the road to Rajapaksa’s private residence.

The protesters were chanting “Go home Gota!” and “Gota is a dictator”.

Videos from the protest site, posted by the News Wire outlet on Facebook, showed a police bus on fire and protesters tending to a man with a bloodied face.

It was not clear if the president was at his residence.

A spokesperson for the police declined to comment.

The calls for Rajapaksa’s resignation came as Sri Lanka struggles with an economic downturn sparked by a foreign exchange crisis that has left the government unable to pay for imports of fuel, food and other essentials. Several state-run hospitals in the island nation of 22 million people have suspended routine surgeries amid the power cuts and shortages of medicines.

Sri Lanka has turned to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout and is also seeking financial help from China and India. Beijing and New Delhi are reportedly each considering offering $1.5bn in credit facilities, on top of loans worth billions of dollars requested by Rajapaksa’s government.

Thursday’s protest started out peacefully, with hundreds of people rallying a few streets away from Rajapaksa’s residence in what they said was a “spontaneous” gathering.

“We can hardly eat two meals,” he said. “Gota has to go.”

Following the clashes in Mirihana, protests spread throughout the city, with demonstrators also blocking the main highway from Colombo to Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, Kandy, with burning logs.

“The protests were peaceful until police used tear gas and water cannon. I am angry, everyone is angry,” said protestor Saman Wanasinghe. “Who knows what will happen now. There will be protests all over.”

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