Like his neighbors, he was frustrated by the more than 10-hour power cuts that plunged Colombo into darkness, and a shortage of gas to cook with that made it hard for his family to eat.
Then on Thursday — the fourth night — the protest turned violent.
Furious demonstrators hurled bricks and started fires outside Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence, as police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the protests.
“People were visibly angry, shouting,” said Upul, who asked only to be referred to by his last name for fear of repercussions. “Earlier (in the week) they demanded the President to step down, (on Thursday) they were yelling and calling him names.”
For weeks, Sri Lanka has been battling its worst economic crisis since the island nation gained independence in 1948, leaving food, fuel, gas and medicine in short supply, and sending the cost of basic goods skyrocketing.
Shops have been forced to close because they can’t run fridges, air conditioners or fans, and soldiers are stationed at gas stations to calm customers, who line-up for hours in the searing heat to fill their tanks. Some people have even died waiting.
But Thursday night marked an escalation in Sri Lanka’s ongoing economic crisis.
Following the protests, the police imposed a curfew and the President ordered a nationwide public emergency, giving authorities powers to detain people without a warrant. On Saturday evening, Sri Lanka declared a nationwide 36-hour curfew, effectively barring protests planned on Sunday — but protests went ahead Saturday anyway. In a statement Sunday, police said they had arrested 664 people for violating the curfew.
Meanwhile, the government is seeking financial support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and turning to regional powers that may be able to help.
But there is brewing fury inside Sri Lanka — and experts warn the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Days spent waiting in line
For weeks, life in Sri Lanka has involved hours of queuing — just to get basic goods needed to survive.
“Our daily life has been reduced to standing in a queue,” said Malkanthi Silva, 53, as she leaned on a worn blue gas cylinder in Colombo’s baking heat, where she had already been waiting for hours for the propane she needs to cook to feed her family. “When we need milk powder, there’s a queue for that, if we need medication there’s another queue for that.”
Though the situation is now particularly acute, it’s been years in the making.
“30% is misfortune. 70% is mismanagement,” said Murtaza Jafferjee, chair of Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute.
For the past decade, he said, the Sri Lankan government had borrowed vast sums of money from foreign lenders and expanded public services. As the government’s borrowings grew,…
Source: Rolling power cuts, violent protests, long lines for basics: Inside Sri Lanka’s unfolding economic crisis