Colombo, Apr 19 (EFE).- At least one person was killed and 24 others were injured on Tuesday in clashes between demonstrators protesting over Sri Lanka’s severe economic crisis and the police, who fired live bullets in response to stone pelting, health officials said.
The clashes took place in Rambukkana in the central Kegalle district, when protesters’ groups blocked railway tracks over the latest record surge in fuel prices, which came into effect at midnight.
The director of the Kegalle hospital, Mihiri Priyaganj, told EFE that at least one protestor had died, while another doctor at the center said on the condition of anonymity that 24 people, including eight police officers, had been injured.
Police spokesperson Nihal Thalduwa told reporters in Colombo that security forces had “warned the protesters to disperse, but they did not listen” and continued to indulge in violence, so that they had to respond with force.
“The police used to tear gas to disperse them, but the protesters started to attack with stones and rocks. To control the situation, the police fired and some people have been injured,” said Thalduwa, who stressed that some police officials had also been injured.
Nonprofit Amnesty International also expressed concern over the clash and tweeted that the authorities “must always exercise restraint and use no more force than is strictly necessary.”
This is the first time a protester has been killed since demonstrations first broke out in early march against the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has been blamed for the severe economic crisis being faced by the island nation.
Protests had also turned violent on Mar. 31 when some agitators tried to enter a private residence of Rajapaksa in Colombo, but no deaths were reported.
Tuesday’s protests come after the state-owned retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation raised the petrol price by 33 percent and diesel by 64 percent in order to minimize losses after the sharp depreciation in the Sri Lankan rupee and increase in global oil prices.
Protests were also held in Colombo on Tuesday with protesters chanting the popular slogan “Go Home Gota” near the presidential secretariat, while opposition group Marxist People’s Liberation Front held a 30-kms long march to the capital and urged people to “join hands to dismiss this tyrannical government.”
Protests have grown in intensity as people find it increasingly difficult to fulfil their necessities, with the local currency’s purchasing power dropping by the day and basic products such as food and fuel becoming out of reach, experts told EFE,
Former prime minister and opposition lawmaker Ranil Wickremesinghe said in the parliament on Tuesday that the economic crisis had just begun,
“The worst is yet to come. We all need to get together to address this issue,” he warned.
The island nation is facing an unprecedented economic crisis caused, in part, by the country’s heavy debt, the economic downturn during the pandemic, and a drastic drop in tourism activity.
The government announced on Tuesday that it had begun negotiations to seek urgent economic assistance from the International Monetary Fund, even though the latter held the initial view that the island does not fulfil the criteria for this measure.
The negotiations began a week after Sri Lanka temporarily suspended foreign debt payments since it could not pay any of the $51 billion worth of foreign debts due to running out of foreign currencies. EFE