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COLOMBO: Security forces in Colombo have arrested 23 protesters in the past two days, police said on Friday, after parliament extended a state of emergency giving troops sweeping powers to question and detain people.

Anti-government protests in the island nation of 22 million started in March and have spread across the country.

People are struggling with daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities such as fuel, food and medicines, as Sri Lanka runs out of foreign currency reserves, leaving it unable to pay for imports.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country earlier this month, after protesters stormed his home and presidential offices, demanding his resignation. His successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has been viewed as an ally of Rajapaksa, and his appointment has triggered more protests.

Wickremesinghe set out emergency rule orders when he assumed office last week — a move that lawmakers kept in place on Wednesday.

“We have arrested 23 people so far, everyone was produced before court,” Nihal Thalduwa, Sri Lanka police spokesperson, told Arab News.

He said the suspects have been charged with damaging property, obstructing government offices and theft.

“We don’t arrest peaceful protesters since they are well within the law. We have arrested the people who have exceeded their limits and committed various other offenses.”

The crackdown and emergency laws come after Wickremesinghe had sworn in a new government last week, retaining previous ministers in his new Cabinet despite an earlier promise to reach a consensus on the establishment of an all-party interim administration.

The military has since raided and dismantled camps the protesters had set up for more than 100 days opposite the president’s office — the main site of demonstrations.

Protesters continued to come onto the streets in different areas of Colombo and said their agitation has been peaceful, with the recent arrests not taking place at the demonstration sites.

“There were no clashes with the government forces,” Namal Jayaweera, a leader of the protest movement, told Arab News.

“They go home and arrest certain protesters.”

The new president was “using all his executive powers to crush the protesters,” Jayaweera alleged.

“Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is only a deal maker, we cannot accept him unless he forms an all-party interim government.”

Sri Lanka is bankrupt and has suspended repayment on its $51 billion foreign loans, as the inflation rate continues to soar.

It surged to a record 60.8 percent in July, with a 90.9 percent climb in food inflation, the statistics department said on Friday.

The government is in the process of preparing a debt restructuring plan, a condition for an International Monetary Fund bailout.