Boos and heckles greeted Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa Sunday on his first public outing since nationwide protests erupted demanding his ruling family resign over the worsening economic crisis. Months of blackouts and acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines have caused widespread suffering across the South Asian island in its worst economic downturn since independence in 1948. On Sunday, the premier visited one of the holiest Buddhist temples — housing a reputedly 2,300-year-old tree — in Anuradhapura. But dozens of people carried hand-written placards and chanted slogans demanding that “thieves” be banned from the sacred city, 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Colombo. “We will worship you if you stand down (as Prime Minister) and leave,” one man shouted. Heavily armed Special Task Force (STF) commandos were deployed while police moved to clear the road for Rajapaksa’s convoy of six vehicles. Officials said the premier returned to the capital by helicopter. Several major roads in the country are blocked by people protesting the lack of cooking gas, petrol and diesel. In the capital, a truck transporting cooking gas was looted Sunday by crowds who had been waiting in line overnight for supplies. Outnumbered police watched helplessly as men climbed onto the truck and got away with 84 cylinders of gas, officials said. The government imposed a state of emergency granting the military sweeping powers to arrest and detain people on Friday, after trade unions brought the country to a virtual standstill in a bid to pressure President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down. The defence ministry said in a statement on Sunday that anti-government demonstrators were behaving in a “provocative and threatening manner” and disrupting essential services.