Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

Sri Lanka: President Maithripala Sirisena extends emergency over Easter Sunday attacks

Extension of tough laws comes as president faces questions over security failings

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena extended the country's state of emergency for another month on June 22, 2019. Reuters
Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena extended the country's state of emergency for another month on June 22, 2019. Reuters

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena extended a state of emergency on Saturday into its third month, going back on pledges to relax the tough laws introduced after the Easter Sunday attacks that killed 258 people.

Mr Sirisena said in a decree he believed there was a "public emergency" in the country, and was invoking provisions of the public security act to extend the state of emergency.

He said in the notification that extending emergency rule was "in the interest of public security, the preservation of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community".

The tough laws, granting sweeping powers to police and security forces to arrest and detain suspects, were due to expire on Saturday.

Just over 100 people, including 10 women, are in custody in connection with April's Easter Sunday suicide attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo.

The attacks sent shockwaves through the Indian Ocean island state, which had enjoyed relative peace since a civil war ended a decade ago. The economy has slowed worryingly, forcing the government to seek foreign loans, and the lucrative tourism industry has been hit.

In late May, Mr Sirisena told diplomats from Australia, Canada, Japan, the US and European states that the security situation was "99 per cent back to normal" and he would allow the emergency laws to lapse by June 22.

He assured diplomats that security forces had either detained or killed all those directly involved in the attacks, blamed on a local extremist group and claimed by ISIS. Despite three advance intelligence reports from India that attacks were being planned, Sri Lanka's top defence officials failed to act before the Easter Day suicide bombings by Islamist militants that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels.

There was no immediate word from the government why Mr Sirisena changed his mind, but security remains tight in the capital.

The emergency can be declared for a month at a time, and parliament must ratify it within 10 days.

The continuation of the emergency came as police announced criminal investigations against several top officers, including the inspector general of police, for negligence and lapses that led to the bombings.

Mr Sirisena himself has been criticised for failing to act on the precise Indian intelligence reports that extremists were about to hit Christian churches and other targets in Sri Lanka.

A parliamentary public inquiry has been told Mr Sirisena, who is also the minister of defence and law and order, failed to follow proper national security protocols.

The mainly Buddhist nation of 21 million people was about to mark a decade since ending a 37-year-long Tamil separatist war when the extremists struck.

Updated: June 22, 2019 04:28 PM

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