Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has revoked a state of emergency, just days after enforcing it to quell protests over the country’s political and economic turmoil.
Rajapaksa stated in a gazette carried by Sri Lankan media agency News First that he revoked the emergency rule ordinance that took effect on April 1, which was imposed following a violent protest outside his private residence on March 31.
The move comes as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged Sri Lankan authorities to defuse tensions peacefully, citing reports of “excessive and unwarranted police violence against protesters.”
“We urge the government, political parties and civil society to engage in immediate, inclusive, and meaningful dialogue to find a solution for the pressing economic and political challenges that Sri Lanka faces and to avoid further polarization of the situation,” OHCHR said in a statement.
Protests against the government had continued on Tuesday, with all roads in the Hambantota district being blocked to quell street protests, News First reported.
Chief government whip Johnston Fernando said Wednesday that Rajapaksa “will not resign from his position under any circumstances,” given that the president was elected on a mandate given by 6.9 million people.
Sri Lanka’s Cabinet ministers resigned en masse on April 3 over the country’s economic crisis, prompting Rajapaksa to call on all parties in Parliament to form a unity government. Sri Lanka’s new finance minister Ali Sabry also quit on Tuesday, just a day after being appointed.
The country’s stock exchange fell by 5.9 percent following the mass resignation, prompting authorities to halt trading on April 4, AFP reported.
On March 31, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed that it would soon begin talks with Sri Lanka about a potential financial program during the new finance minister’s visit to Washington in April.
But Human Rights Watch said that “any future IMF program in Sri Lanka should protect the human rights of low-income people, and address corruption and entrenched obstacles to the rule of law.”
Sarah Saadoun, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that the protests send “a clear message” about people’s economic situation in Sri Lanka.
“The IMF and the Sri Lankan government should come to an agreement that supports people’s ability to afford life necessities and addresses the problems underlying the current crisis,” Saadoun said in a statement.
Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades, with its foreign exchange reserves plummeting by 70 percent in the past two years to about $2.31 billion, leaving it unable to pay for essential imports. Additionally, the country must settle a $4 billion debt this year, including a $1 billion bond that matures in July.