Asia-Pacific

Sri Lanka president restores ban on women buying alcohol

Sri Lanka incoming President Maithripala Sirisena waves to supporters as he leaves the election secretariat in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, January 9, 2015. Source: AAP

The president of Sri Lanka reversed a decision to allow women the opportunity to buy alcohol, which has infuriated social media users.

Sri Lanka's president Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday reimposed a four-decade-long ban on women buying liquor just days after his finance minister lifted the restriction.

Mr Sirisena said he had ordered finance minister Mangala Samaraweera to revoke last week's decision to overturn the 1979 law prohibiting the sale of any type of alcohol to women.

"From tomorrow (Monday), the minister's order will be rescinded," Mr Sirisena's office said in a statement, which added the status quo would be restored but offered no explanation.

Upon hearing the reversal, social media users called the move "archaic" and "sexist".

The reversal comes after a finance ministry official told AFP Mr Samaraweera had revoked the 39-year-old law in an effort to strike sexist bills from the statute books.

"The idea was to restore gender neutrality," ministry spokesman Ali Hassen said of the decision Wednesday to roll back the ban.

But last week's decision to relax laws on alcohol provoked a backlash in some quarters of the majority-Buddhist nation of 21 million people.

The National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection had accused the finance minister of encouraging drinking, and had urged Mr Sirisena to intervene and restore the restrictions.

Under further new measures passed by Mr Samaraweera, bars and pubs can remain open longer, and a ban on women working in bars, distilleries and breweries was lifted.

But Mr Sirisena's office said he was reducing the time period that bars could be open.

It was not clear from Mr Sirisena's statement on Sunday if the decision to allow women to work in the alcohol industry had also been reversed.

The ban on women buying liquor was likely originally imposed in 1979 to appease the conservative Buddhist hierarchy at the time, a finance ministry official told AFP.

Liquor vendors in Sri Lanka are also forbidden to sell spirits to police or members of the armed forces in uniform.

Mr Samaraweera has said strict curbs on Sri Lanka's licensed liquor manufacturers only encourage a black market for spirits and deprive the state of much-needed revenue.

Sri Lanka in its November budget unveiled steep tax rises on hard liquor, but greatly reduced tariffs on wine and beer.

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