Anti-government demonstrators shout slogans during a protest in front of the Fort Railway Station in Colombo on July 27, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

A week after mass protests were crushed in Sri Lanka, things are still simmering in the insolvent island nation. The leadership under new President Ranil Wickremesinghe is cracking down on participants in the protest movement.

At least a dozen ringleaders have already been arrested, a police representative told the German Press Agency in Colombo on Friday. At least 300 other people have been identified but have not yet been arrested.

The state accuses the government opponents of violence and damage to state property. They also set fire to Wickremesinghe’s private residence.

On Wednesday, parliament extended the state of emergency by a month despite sharp protests from the opposition parties. The opposition accuses the new leadership of abuse of power.

The government “is taking revenge on people who organized protests,” criticized opposition MP M.A. sumanthiran. The government is running a “witch hunt” on normal demonstrators.

The island state south of India is experiencing the worst economic crisis in decades. Due to a lack of foreign currency, the country became insolvent for the first time in May. After months of mass protests, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled abroad two weeks ago. Hardly sworn in, his successor Wickremesinghe had the protest camp broken up by force. The protests are also directed against him. Wickremesinghe is considered a close ally of Rajapaksa.

The mood among the people is irritable. There is still a lack of fuel, inflation is over 50 percent, and the power goes out again and again. Various citizen groups have already threatened renewed protests. The government under Wickremesinghe not only hopes for early support from the International Monetary Fund IMF, but also for further financial aid from the important creditor China.

It is hoped that consultations with Beijing on an aid package worth the equivalent of four billion euros will be concluded “soon”, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to China told the financial newspaper “Nikkei Asia”. Palitha Kohona has denied claims that it has fallen into a Chinese “debt trap”.

China accounted for only about 10 percent of foreign debt. However, some experts consider this figure to be an understatement. According to the rating agency Fitch, negotiations for aid from the IMF could be complicated by Sri Lanka’s debt to China.

Experts cite various reasons for Sri Lanka’s desolate situation. It was not only the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 that slowed down the country’s economic progress. The many state-owned companies that are making massive losses are also a major problem, wrote Talal Rafi, a member of a network of experts at the World Economic Forum, in The Diplomat magazine.