Colombo, Apr 20 (EFE).- Sri Lanka on Wednesday ordered an independent probe into the death of a protestor who was shot on Tuesday during a clash between the police and those demonstrating against the government’s mishandling of a severe economic crisis, even as international pressure mounted and protests intensified further.
The police had on Tuesday allegedly shot dead a protester in the central Sri Lankan town of Rambukkana, while 24 people including 8 police officers were injured in clashes that broke out after hundreds of protesters blocked a railroad in a stir against fuel price hike and shortage of daily need products.
“We have requested the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to conduct an independent and impartial inquiry into the incident. We want to be honest and we do not want to sweep anything under the carpet,” foreign minister GL Peiris told reporters in Colombo.
“We will ensure the freedom of expression, freedom of association, and democratic rights of dissent,” he added.
The foreign minister’s comments came soon after he met the United States’ Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung. Chung had met HRC officials earlier on Tuesday.
The United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Canada, the United Nations, the European Union, and international rights groups have raised concerns over the shooting of unarmed protesters and called for an impartial probe into the incident.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also tweeted that the Sri Lankan citizens’ right to peacefully protest will not be hindered and said he was “saddened by the protester’s death,” although urging protesters to “refrain from violence.”
The developments come even as a Sri Lankan delegation led by finance minister Ali Sabry is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a loan to address the ongoing economic crisis, and government sources acknowledged to EFE off the record that political stability was a prerequisite for securing a bailout.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters continued their agitation near the presidential secretariat for the 13th consecutive day demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa, who has refused to quit despite the economic and political situation deteriorating day by day.
“He has done the most damage to this country,” C Amarapala, a 52-year old shop owner, told EFE.
Government trade unions and media activists also joined the protest on Wednesday, with many dressed in black.
“We will not stop this protest until the president resigns and this government quits. We need a change to ensure a better future for our children,” M. Kumara, a 32-year-old father of two, told EFE.
Protests were also reported from the Galle and Matara districts as fishermen blocked roads, demanding fuel to be able to continue fishing.
For months, Sri Lanka 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.
Tuesday’s protests started hours 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 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. EFE