Sri Lanka Police imposed a curfew ahead of the planned protest

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Police imposed a curfew in the Sri Lankan capital and surrounding areas on Friday, a day ahead of a planned protest involving the country’s president and prime minister over an economic crisis causing severe shortages essential goods and caused disruption, people’s livelihoods were asked to resign.

Critics say President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is responsible for the economic crisis, the worst since the country’s independence in 1948, and that Ranil Wickremesinghe, who became prime minister two months ago and vowed to end the shortages, has not lived up to his promise.

Civic and opposition activists have announced that thousands of people will gather in Colombo for a mass protest on Saturday. Police said the curfew, which begins at 9 p.m. on Friday, will continue in Colombo and its suburbs until further notice.

Thousands of students dressed in black and holding black flags marched in Colombo on Friday demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe. They shouted anti-government slogans and carried banners reading “Enough – go now”.

Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy and has suspended $7 billion in external debt repayments due this year. It has to pay back more than $5 billion every year until 2026. Its foreign exchange reserves are almost depleted and it is unable to import food, fuel, cooking gas and medicines.

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A lack of fuel to run power plants has resulted in long daily power outages. People have to queue for hours to buy fuel and gas, and the country has survived mainly on lines of credit extended by neighboring India to buy fuel and other necessities.

With the economic crisis, inflation has skyrocketed and the prices of essential goods have skyrocketed, dealing a severe blow to poor and vulnerable groups.

Schools have been closed for weeks due to fuel and electricity shortages and the government has asked state employees other than those in essential services to work from home.

The country is negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund, but Wickremesinghe said this week negotiations are difficult because Sri Lanka is effectively bankrupt. He previously said the country’s economy had “collapsed”.

The economic crisis has triggered a political upheaval with widespread anti-government protests. Protesters have blocked main roads to call for fuel and people in some areas have been fighting over limited supplies.

In Colombo, protesters have been occupying the entrance to the President’s office for nearly three months to demand his resignation. They accuse him and his powerful family, which includes several siblings who until recently held cabinet posts, of fueling the crisis through corruption and mismanagement.

Months of protests have all but crushed the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for nearly two decades.

One of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned as prime minister last month, and two other brothers and a nephew gave up their cabinet posts earlier.

President Rajapaksa has admitted he did not take early enough steps to avert the economic meltdown but has refused to step down. It is almost impossible to oust presidents under the Constitution unless they resign of their own accord.

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