First killing by police in Sri Lanka protests, 10 others injured

The island nation is in the grip of its most painful economic downturn since independence in 1948, with severe shortages of essential goods such as fuel and regular blackouts.
Members of Sri Lanka's opposition political party National People's Power shout anti-government slogans during a protest rally in Colombo. (Photo| AP)
Members of Sri Lanka's opposition political party National People's Power shout anti-government slogans during a protest rally in Colombo. (Photo| AP)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka police shot dead one man and wounded 10 others on Tuesday in the first fatal clash with demonstrators protesting the island nation's crippling economic crisis. The island nation is in the grip of its most painful economic downturn since independence in 1948, with severe shortages of essential goods such as fuel and regular blackouts causing widespread misery.

Huge protests have called for the resignation of the government, which is preparing to negotiate an urgently needed bailout with the International Monetary Fund. Police fired live rounds at a crowd that had blockaded a highway in the central town of Rambukkana to protest oil shortages and high prices, hospital and police officials told AFP.

The protest was one of many spontaneous gatherings staged around Sri Lanka on Tuesday, after the country's main petrol retailer hiked prices by nearly 65 per cent. Tens of thousands of angry motorists in various parts of the country blocked arterial roads with mounds of burning tyres to condemn the move.

In the capital Colombo, a large crowd of protesters have maintained a camp outside the seafront office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for more than a week, demanding the leader step down. Doctors at Sri Lanka's main children's hospital also staged a protest on Tuesday over a severe shortage of medicines and equipment.

In a bid to address growing calls for his entire government to resign, Rajapaksa on Monday appointed a new cabinet and acknowledged public anger over the ruling family's mismanagement. "People are suffering because of the economic crisis and I deeply regret it," the president said on Monday.

Sri Lanka is seeking three to four billion dollars from the IMF to overcome its balance-of-payments crisis and boost depleted reserves. Dozens of Rajapaksa's lawmakers have turned against the administration and on Tuesday took seats on opposition benches in parliament.

Sri Lanka's economic meltdown began after the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed vital revenue from tourism and remittances. The government last week announced a default on Sri Lanka's $51 billion foreign debt and the Colombo Stock Exchange has suspended trading to prevent an anticipated market collapse.

The government has urged citizens abroad to donate foreign exchange to help pay for desperately needed essentials after announcing a default on its entire external debt. A government delegation is in Washington to open bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund from Tuesday.

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