A demonstrator helps another as police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse students demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country's crippling economic crisis, near parliament in Colombo on May 6, 2022

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A demonstrator helps another as police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse students demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country’s crippling economic crisis, near parliament in Colombo on May 6, 2022 – Copyright AFP SONNY TUMBELAKA

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Friday declared a state of emergency for the second time in five weeks, giving security forces sweeping powers as a nationwide strike demanding his resignation brought the country to standstill.

A spokesman for the president said he invoked the tough laws to “ensure public order” after shops closed and public transport was halted Friday by unions blaming him for the unprecedented economic crisis, which has ignited weeks of unrest. 

Earlier Friday, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse students attempting to storm the national parliament demanding Rajapaksa resign.

The emergency gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without judicial supervision.

It also allows the deployment of troops to maintain law and order in addition to police.

“The President used his executive powers to invoke emergency regulations to ensure the maintenance of essential services and public order,” the spokesman said.

He said the laws will go into effect from midnight Friday.

Beleaguered Rajapaksa had declared an earlier state of emergency on April 1, a day after thousands of protesters attempted to storm his private home in the capital. That emergency was allowed to lapse on April 14.

But protests have escalated since then. The new emergency declaration came as thousands of demonstrators remained outside Rajapaksa’s sea-front office, where they have been protesting since April 9, and smaller groups tried to storm homes of other key government politicians.

The 85,000-strong police force had stepped up security for all ruling party legislators.

But they were stretched to the limit and had asked the security forces to reinforce them.

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