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Sri Lankan president revokes emergency amid growing protests

Sri Lankan nuns protest against the economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. A group of Sri Lankan governing party lawmakers called Tuesday for the appointment of an interim government, warning that a failure to do so would lead to violence and anarchy, as demonstrators continue to demand the resignation of Rajapaksa over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan nuns protest against the economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's president revoked a days-old state of emergency after huge public protests demanded he resign over the country's worst economic crisis in memory.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has resisted the calls even after governing party lawmakers said an interim government should replace his and failing to do so would make them responsible for violence.

The decree Rajapaksa issued Tuesday night said he revoked emergency orders that had given him sweeping authority to act in the interests of public security and preserving public order, including suspending any laws, authorizing detentions and seizing property.

Rajapaksa had declared the emergency last week after crowds of protesters demonstrated near his home in the capital Colombo. The protests initially began over shortages of essentials such as cooking gas, petrol, electricity and milk powder. They have spread to every part of the Indian Ocean island nation and now the demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and his government.

TV and social media images from Monday showed protesters stormed into the offices and houses of ruling party lawmakers and vandalized some premises. On Tuesday, lawmakers at the first new Parliament session since the protests flared asked the speaker to ensure their safety.

The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, continue to hold power in Sri Lanka, despite their politically powerful family being the focus of public ire.

The Cabinet resigned Sunday night, and Rajapaksa invited all parties to join a unity government, but the main opposition party rejected the proposal. On Tuesday, nearly 40 governing coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote according to coalition instructions, significantly weakening the government.

Sri Lanka has huge debts and dwindling foreign reserves, leaving it unable to pay for imported goods.

For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, foods and medicines, most of which comes from abroad and is paid for in hard currency. The fuel shortage, along with lower hydropower capacity in dry weather, has caused rolling power cuts lasting hours each day.

Rajapaksa last month said his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and turned to China and India for loans while he appealed to people to limit the use of fuel and electricity. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.