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Sri Lanka declares state of emergency amid crippling strike

Black flags have been raised across the country as millions of workers go out on strike in Sri Lanka. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa responded by giving the military greater powers.

Sri Lankans protest demanding the resignation of the government in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Some health workers joined the strike although services remained running

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency in Sri Lanka on Friday.

The move gives wider powers to the military amid increasing anger over the government's handling of its worst financial crisis in almost three-quarters of a century.

The declaration gives the authority for the military to arrest and detain people as the country attempts to stymie public unrest.

Watch video 02:24

Sri Lanka's 'organic' move has failed

General strike

During the day on Friday, offices, factories and public transport across Sri Lanka were left empty and at a standstill as millions of public and private sector workers took part in a nationwide strike to protest the government's mishandling of an ongoing financial crisis.

The strike was called by trade unions and civil organizations. Calls for President Rajapaksa to resign still fall on deaf ears.

Almost all public and privately run transport services were canceled. Over 3,000 factory workers from Sri Lanka's main export processing zone also joined the strike.

"We can pinpoint the policy blunders of the president that led to this very sorry state of our economy," said trade union leader Ravi Kumudesh. "He must go."

Watch video 02:32

Protesters urge Sri Lanka's president to resign

Rajapaksa refuses to give in to protests

The president has refused to step down despite the presence of protesters camped outside his office in Colombo for almost a month, as well as a series of large-scale demonstrations.

On Thursday, a group of students that tried to storm the national parliament was met with tear gas fired by police.

Government mismanagement and the coronavirus pandemic have sunk the island country into its worst economic crisis since Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948.

The financial crisis has led to shortages of fuel, food and pharmaceuticals resulting in repeated blackouts and increasing hardship for the island's population.

The crisis comes as rising food and fuel prices have been increasing globally, most recently fueled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Watch video 02:45

How Sri Lanka got into its worst economic crisis in decades

Economic hardships set to continue

The opposition in parliament has so far been unable to oust Rajapaksa from office.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said on Friday that they would introduce a no-confidence vote against the president and his government next week.

The president has made repeated calls for a unity government and has made no signs of letting go of power.

Last month, Rajapaksa reshuffled his Cabinet, removing several of his family members from positions of power, but keeping his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as the country's prime minister.

The government also announced last month that it was defaulting on its $51 billion (€48.3 billion) foreign debt after running out of US dollar reserves.

Sri Lankan Finance Minister Ali Sabry said earlier in the week that the economic difficulties would likely last for another two years.

jsi, ab/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)