COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan police fired live ammunition to disperse protesters on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding a dozen others, as the country sought rapid financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund to ease a worsening crisis. economic.
Demonstrations have raged across the South Asian island country of 22 million people for weeks, expressing anger at the government’s mismanagement of the economy that has led to shortages of essential items 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 protesters and police in the central town of Rambukkana.
The deceased person, the first fatality since the largely peaceful protests began last month, was likely shot, Priyangani told Reuters. “We suspect gunshot wounds, but we need an autopsy to confirm the exact cause of death.”
The unrest broke out after 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, the police fired on the protesters,” Thalduwa told Reuters.
“Several injured police officers have also been hospitalized,” he said, adding that live ammunition and tear gas were used to repel a crowd that was throwing stones and other objects. “Police are still in the area and trying to restore calm.”
Some human rights groups and foreign diplomats called for restraint and condemned the violence in Rambukkana, where police imposed a curfew on Tuesday night.
“A full and transparent investigation is essential and people’s right to peaceful protest must be upheld,” said US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung. said on Twitter.
Analysts have pointed to political instability as a serious risk as Sri Lanka seeks to negotiate an IMF loan program, with a delegation led by Finance Minister Ali Sabry starting formal talks in Washington on Monday.
The government is seeking assistance to help replenish its reserves and attract bridge financing to pay for essential imports of fuel, food and medicine.
Critics say the financial crisis arose from the effects of financial mismanagement by successive governments, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and when rising fuel prices depleted foreign exchange reserves. Fuel, power, food and medicine have been running low for weeks.