Sri Lanka economic crisis: Court turns down police plea to prevent protest against President Rajapaksa

A Sri Lankan court on Thursday refused to issue an order preventing protesters, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over his mishandling of the economic crisis in the island nation, from entering the area of the President’s House in central Colombo.

The deputy solicitor general on behalf of the Colombo Fort police told the Colombo Additional Magistrate that intelligence service reports have suggested that political activists, civil society and trade unionists are to enter the area to form an unlawful assembly and stage protests on July 8 and 9.

He pleaded for a court order preventing their entry to the location where Rajapaksa currently operates, as his office has been blocked by protesters since April 9 in a continuous protest demanding the president’s resignation.

The lawyers’ body, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, argued that freedom of expression must be preserved and the police must not be allowed to use the judiciary as a tool to violate the fundamental rights of the protesters.

If the protesters became unruly, police can act under the criminal procedure code, it argued. After hearing the arguments of both sides, the court refused the police request to halt the protest and permitted the agitators to hold a peaceful demonstration.

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The protest organisers said the July 9 protest will be an extension of the continuous protest since April 9 and they are expecting a mass movement of public support to force Rajapaksa’s resignation.

They said both President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe must resign as both have shown incompetence to handle the ongoing economic crisis and the subsequent hardships heaped on the public.

Police chief C D Wickremaratna in a message to the protesters said while the police recognise the right to conduct peaceful protests, they must ensure that no violence or damage to public property happens during the agitation.

Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis since its independence from Britain in 1948, and needs to obtain at least USD 4 billion to tide over the acute shortage in foreign exchange reserves.

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

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