Public anger and frustration is threatening to boil over in Sri Lanka amid a growing economic crisis that has greatly diminished the standard of living and now threatens to unseat the current government. Sri Lankans are defying the present state of emergency which bans public gathering and protests. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared the emergency on Saturday, hoping to prevent the large-scale demonstrations that were scheduled for today (Sunday, 3 April, 2022). Along with restricting public movement and imposing a curfew, internet access was also severely limited, a move that has caused dissent within the Sri Lankan government.
The government’s heavy-handed moves come in response to a demonstration involving thousands of people outside Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home in Colombo. The protest began peacefully but turned violent when security forces used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd. Demonstrators responded by throwing rocks and setting fire to vehicles used by the security forces. Over fifty demonstrators were arrested, and two dozen security officers suffered injuries.
The root cause of the present situation is the government’s handling of the worst economic crisis to hit the island nation in decades. Conditions have been going downhill for some time owing to a combination of events and circumstances that started with the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019. Those attacks, which killed over 250 people, hit Sri Lanka’s tourism-reliant economy very hard. Next came the COVID-19 pandemic which placed heavy pressure on the currency. Along with a host of other factors, these landmark events have combined to produce a situation where Sir Lankans find it increasingly difficult to purchase fuel, medicine and other essential goods.
All eyes are now on Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government. How the nation’s leaders react to public defiance of the curfew and state of emergency will determine what the next phase of the crisis will bring. Already, many politicians from parties in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s governing coalition are starting to grow antsy. Calls that he appoint a caretaker government that represents all eleven parties represented in parliament are growing louder. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, a coalition member, announced on Friday that it will leave the coalition unless Rajapaksa takes measures to “alleviate the economic crisis, after which an election must be called for.”
Kazakh authorities on Sunday said that order has been restored and the nation stabilized following a week of the worst unrest seen there since it gained independence in 1991. The office of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has also reported that all of the buildings and locations previously taken over by the protesters. On Friday, Tokayev said as part of the effort to restore order he authorized police and military to shoot-to-kill. The Kazah leader’s office also reported 5,800 people have been detained since the protests morphed into a violent uprising. According to state media 164 people were killed last week.
As it became apparent how threatening the uprising had become, Tokayev wasted little time in requesting help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states. 2.500 troops have either been deployed or are in the process of moving into Kazakhstan. The majority of troops are Russian and have those that are on the ground in the country are reportedly securing strategic locations and government buildings. This has freed up Kazakh police and military to participate in the ‘counter-terrorist operations’ in Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
As far as the big picture goes, Vladimir Putin wasted no time in answering Tokayev’s call for help. Russian troops were packing and moving within hours of the order. The Kazakh uprising came at the worst possible moment as the Ukraine situation is moving towards a possible climax this coming week with meetings between NATO, the US and Russia on the schedule. To have allowed Kazakhstan to fall into chaos would’ve been counterproductive to Putin’s plan. By most appearances, the situation in Kazakhstan has calmed down and the government is back in control.
Protest rallies broke out in Cuba today as citizens took to the streets and voiced their discontent with the current government, as well as shortages of food and medicine that have grown significantly worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nation where dissent is often dealt with swiftly and brutally, the protests appear to have taken the government by surprise. The protest rallies took place in cities and towns around the country. Santiago, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Holguín all saw protests, as did a number of smaller towns. Eventually, they came to Havana where a strong police presence was waiting. Thousands of people took part nationwide, making today’s protests the largest in Cuba since the Balsero crisis in 1994.
A shortage in COVID-19 vaccines seems to have been a contributing factor for today’s events too. Cuba has been setting record highs in the number of COVID cases of late. Efforts to control transmission of the virus have not kept up with the rise in cases. Cuba’s economy is also in the midst of a contraction. Economic sanctions and multiple layers of bureaucracy have combined to bring production in agricultural and essential food sectors to a near standstill. Of course, these problems are all symptoms of the main ailment facing Cubans: the authoritarian government in Havana.
It did not take very long for the Cuban government to lay blame for the protests at the feet of the United States. The next step in the government’s response will be watched closely by the US and other nations in the region. This is the first major test for Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel since he assumed power in April of this year.
For the US, the Cuba demonstrations could serve to bring about another test for the Biden administration which is now contending with Haiti and the aftermath of its president’s assassination last week.
The United States has introduced trade sanctions against Myanmar in the aftermath of security forces killing thirty-eight protesters on Wednesday. Specifically, the sanctions will be made up of export controls against Myanmar’s Defense Ministry, and a trio of corporations that have close ties to the military. As the military continues to escalate the situation on the ground in Myanmar, the US sanctions signal that Washington is moving to set an example for the international community to follow. The State Department has also called on China to use its close relationship with Myanmar to restore calm and return the civilian government to power. The chances of Beijing doing this are remote, however. In February, China blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a condemnation of the coup and at the moment, China has more pressing issues to deal with.
Inside of Myanmar there is growing anxiety about what the weekend will bring. Activists and protest groups have defiantly promised to continue demonstrations even in the face of security forces firing live ammunition at protesters. Meanwhile, as Myanmar braces for a potentially violent weekend, the military government is indifferent about blowback from the international community over the February coup. ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived,’ Myanmar’s deputy military chief Soe Win informed the UN envoy to Myanmar last month. It will be interesting to see if the military government’s stance changes following the bloody day of protests this week.
This weekend has seen the crackdown in Myanmar intensify. Police and security forces confronted peaceful demonstrators at protest sites across the country. The use of lethal force has been reported by the UN human rights office, which claims to have received the information from highly credible sources. In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, a large demonstration was confronted by police. The police charged at unarmed, non-violent protesters and when the protesters moved to reassemble, the police started using more heavy-handed tactics, according to an Al Jazeera journalist who witnessed the scene. Reports of police opening fire at other points in Yangon were soon published on social media outlets. Although most news outlets were unable to confirm the claims, or number of casualties, the UN human rights office has reported that at least 18 protesters have been killed over the weekend.
On the geopolitical front, Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations was fired by the nation’s military rulers after a speech he gave at the UN General Assembly on Friday. Tun urged the international community to use “any means necessary to take action” against the military to “ restore the democracy.” Tun concluded his remarks by saying he was representing Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.