Published On: Wed, Apr 20th, 2022

One dead after Sri Lanka police fire on protesters

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Police in Sri Lanka fired live ammunition to scatter protesters on Tuesday, killing one person and injuring a dozen more, as the country sought rapid financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund to ease a worsening economic crisis.

Demonstrations have raged across the South Asian island country of 22 million people for weeks, voicing anger against the government’s mishandling of the economy that has led to shortages of essentials and prolonged power cuts.

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Mihiri Priyangani, director of the Kegalle Teaching Hospital, said at least one protester was killed and 12 injured were hospitalized, including two in critical condition, after clashes broke out between demonstrators and police officers in the central town of Rambukkana.

The deceased person — the first fatality since the largely peaceful protests began last month — had most likely been shot, Priyangani told Reuters. “We are suspecting gunshot injuries but need a post-mortem to confirm the exact cause of death.”

Disturbances erupted after the police asked protesters to move away from a key railway line that they had blocked for hours, police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa said.

“To control the situation, police fired at the protesters,” Thalduwa told Reuters.

“Several injured policemen have also been hospitalized,” he said, adding live ammunition and tear gas had been used to repel a crowd pelting stones and other objects. “Police are still in the area and attempting to restore calm.”

Some rights groups and foreign diplomats called for restraint and condemned the violence in Rambukkana, where the police imposed a curfew late on Tuesday.

“A full, transparent investigation is essential & the people’s right to peaceful protest must be upheld,” the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, said on Twitter.

Analysts have flagged political instability as a serious risk as Sri Lanka looks to negotiate a loan program from the IMF, with a delegation headed by Finance Minister Ali Sabry kicking off formal talks in Washington on Monday.

The government is looking for assistance to help top up its reserves and attract bridge financing to pay for essential imports of fuel, food and medicines.

Critics say the financial crisis arose from the effects of financial mismanagement by successive governments, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and as rising prices of fuel sapped foreign reserves. Fuel, power, food and medicines have been running low for weeks.

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