COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s police used Tuesday tear gas and water cannons to disperse an opposition protest in the island nation facing its worst economic crisis while gearing up for a national election later this year.

Protesters from the main opposition United People’s Power party gathered in the capital, Colombo, and accused President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration of overburdening citizens by increasing taxes, as well as hiking prices for electricity and fuel, causing a sharp spike in living costs.

“The government is not concerned with the people suffering and being unable to provide for themselves,” said opposition lawmaker Sarath Fonseka who was at the protest. “People can no longer pay their bills or buy their children school supplies,” he said.

Fonseka said that “people must rise” and vote against the current government in the coming election.

Earlier on Tuesday, at least two courts prohibited protesters from marching along roads leading to vital buildings including the president’s office, finance ministry and the central bank. Instead, two areas in the capital were assigned for the protest.

Police used tear gas and water canons twice to disperse the protesters as they tried to move out of the designated areas.

However, the opposition said it planned more protests across the country in the coming weeks.

Sri Lanka plunged into its worst-ever economic crisis in 2022. It had declared bankruptcy in April the same year with more than $83 billion in debt, leading to strident protests that caused the ouster of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa The International Monetary Fund approved a four-year bailout program last March to help the South Asian country.

The government defended the measures taken, saying they were necessary to meet the IMF targets, assure the country’s debt was sustainable, and win over the trust of the international community again.

Sri Lanka’s parliament elected current President Ranil Wickremesinghe in July 2022 and under him, shortages of essential goods have largely been abated.

But the opposition accuses him of stifling dissent by cracking down on protesters. Last week, the parliament, where the ruling coalition enjoys majority, overwhelmingly approved an internet regulation bill that was highly criticized for creating “a very oppressive environment.”

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