Rajapaksa imposes a state of emergency following general strike
by Melani Manel Perera

For the second time in a few weeks, the president uses an iron fist to stop protesters demanding the government’s resignation due to the country’s severe economic crisis. Yesterday, the mass strike brought the whole island nation to a standstill with more than a thousand trade union from all sectors joining in.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has once again resorted to a state of emergency to face growing protests against his government, which is struggling with the most serious economic crisis the country has known in its recent history.

Rajapaksa’s move came after the island nation was brought to a standstill yesterday as a result of a massive 24-hour general strike (hartal) called by more than a thousand trade unions to demand the resignation of both the president and the prime minister.

The president seems bent instead on using an iron fist. Following an emergency cabinet meeting, he reinstated the draconian measure starting midnight. The state of emergency was first imposed 1 April to stop the first major protests and lasted for five days.

Using tear gas and water cannons, police yesterday charged protesters near the parliament, where university students have set up a protest centre.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president's brother, and his government have lost their majority in parliament and two motions of no-confidence are up for a vote.

Yesterday’s strike was the largest in recent years: transport, banks, public services, schools, energy companies, all came to a halt.

The Nurses Association, the Public Health Officers Union, fishing unions and the postal union also joined the labour action.

People have been warned not to go to hospitals, except in emergencies.

Many Christian clergymen have also taken part in the protests.

In the town of Jaela, some protesters told AsiaNews that, "The president and the prime minister are still sucking our innocent blood. They have ruined ours and the next two or three generations.”

Protest organisers have threatened to call another strike for next Wednesday (11 May) but this one would be indefinite until the president and the cabinet resign.