Sri Lankan Parliament approves state of emergency

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Monday approved a state of emergency declared by the president, who said it is needed to control food prices and prevent hoarding amid shortages of some staples.

Opposition lawmakers said the emergency declaration isn’t needed because other laws can be used to maintain essential supplies, and the tough emergency rules can be misused to stifle critics.

The emergency law enables authorities to detain people without warrants, seize property, enter and search any premises, suspend laws and issue orders that cannot be questioned in court. Officials who issue such orders are also immune from lawsuits.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared the emergency on Aug. 30. The constitution requires that it be approved within 14 days by the 225-member Parliament, where the governing party has more than 150 seats. The resolution received 132 votes in favor and 51 against.

The government said it has made maximum efforts to use normal laws, but that court cases it filed have been delayed by the pandemic. Governing party lawmakers said the emergency was declared only because other options were not working, and that the government does not intend to use the emergency regulations against opponents.

Sri Lanka has been governed under a state of emergency for much the last 50 years as it went through two Marxist insurrections and a decades-long civil war. Authorities were often accused of using the rules to suppress opponents.

In recent weeks there have been shortages of essential items such as sugar, milk power and cooking gas. The government says the shortages were artificially created by hoarders. The country is also facing a foreign exchange crisis triggered by a drop in tourism and exports, along with heavy loan repayments.