Friday, October 7, 2022

Sri Lanka: One dead and several wounded as police shoot protesters | Sri Lanka

One person has died and several people are in a critical condition in Sri Lanka after police opened fire on a crowd who were protesting against rising fuel prices and the country’s economic crisis.

Police confirmed they had fired on a group who had been blocking a railway in the town of Rambukkana, about 60 miles from Colombo, for more than eight hours. They were demonstrating against the devastating fuel and oil shortages in the country and the decision to raise fuel prices further this week.

The death is the first fatality caused by police since overwhelmingly peaceful protests erupted spontaneously across the country in recent weeks to call for the government to step down as Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since independence. Twelve people were also reported to have been injured in Tuesday’s incident, with two in a critical condition.

As Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves have fallen to record lows and the country faces bankruptcy, the government has been unable to afford fuel and oil imports, leading to mass shortages and widespread anger. At least three people have died in the long queues outside petrol stations. Citizens have faced weeks of food and medicine shortages, unaffordable inflation and daily power blackouts of 13 hours.

According to police, the protester in Rambukkana had been refusing to move from a railway line and had parked a fuel truck across the tracks. Police fired teargas in an attempt to disperse the crowds, an action that appeared to provoke the protester, and the police responded by firing live rounds. Video footage from the scene shows a senior officer instructing others dressed in full riot gear: “Fire, fire and chase them out.”

Dr Mihiri Priyangani, who worked in a government hospital in nearby Kegalle, confirmed that 13 people had been admitted with suspected gunshot wounds. One had died while two others were undergoing surgery.

A curfew was imposed on Rambukka on Tuesday night. The Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission said they had formed a three-person panel and would be investigating the incident.

While there had been some initial clashes between protesters and police when the protests began last month, in recent weeks they had remained largely peaceful. Thousands have continued to gather in Colombo on a daily basis to call for the government to step down, with minimal police or military interference, and this was the first time that deadly force had been deployed.

In a statement, Amnesty said it was “concerned about the disturbing reports emerging of at least one death and more than 10 injured after the police opened fire at protesters in Rambukkana today. The authorities must always exercise restraint and use no more force than is strictly necessary.”

The US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, said she was “deeply saddened by the horrible news coming out of Rambukkana” and called for a “transparent, independent” investigation into events.

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