Wednesday, 29 November, 2023

Shoot-on-sight orders in Sri Lanka to quell riots after deadly violence



There have been flare-ups of violence around the country despite stringent security measures, as protesters continue shouting slogans against the government while defying a curfew.

The South Asian island nation has been seething for more than a month as protests triggered by a crippling economic crisis have spread from the capital to the countryside.
The South Asian island nation has been seething for more than a month as protests triggered by a crippling economic crisis have spread from the capital to the countryside. (AFP)

Sri Lankan authorities have ordered troops to "shoot on sight anyone looting public property or causing harm to life", attempting to quell further unrest after rioting killed at least eight people in the island nation.

Fresh protests defying a curfew erupted on Tuesday, even after scores were injured a day before when government supporters bussed into Colombo attacked protesters with sticks and clubs.

Police said eight people — including a lawmaker from the ruling side — died and over 200 were wounded, in the worst violence in weeks of demonstrations over a dire economic crisis.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Monday as outrage over the incident grew — and triggered retaliations. But his move failed to calm public anger, as his brother, Gotabaya, is still president with widespread powers.

Protesters swarmed the entrance to Gotabaya’s office in the capital city of Colombo for the 32nd day on Tuesday, demanding that he follow in his brother’s footsteps and quit.

This was after thousands of angry protesters stormed Mahinda's official residence overnight. He had to be rescued in a pre-dawn military operation, in which tear gas and warning shots were fired.

READ MORE:Pro-government supporters attack protesters in Sri Lanka

Tension simmers

Government and private offices, as well as shops and schools, were ordered shut on Tuesday. As protests continued, a crowd attacked and set fire to a vehicle carrying Colombo's most senior policeman.

Officers fired warning shots and sent in reinforcements to rescue Senior Deputy Inspector-General Deshabandu Tennakoon, who was rushed to hospital but later released after treatment.

Vigilante groups blocked the main road to Colombo's airport and stopped all traffic to check for any Rajapaksa loyalists trying to leave, though Mahinda's son said his father would not flee.

The Rajapaksa clan's hold on power has been shaken by months of blackouts and shortages of essentials, the worst economic crisis since it became independent in 1948.

The European Union called for restraint. "The EU calls on the authorities to initiate an investigation into the events and to hold accountable those instigating or perpetrating violence," the 27-nation bloc said.

Monday's attacks on protesters represented a turning point after weeks of peaceful demonstrations. Police and the local human rights commission said they have started separate investigations into the violence.

With anger boiling over, crowds set alight the homes of at least 41 pro-Rajapaksa politicians, while buses and trucks used by government loyalists were targeted.

Several Rajapaksa homes were torched in different parts of the country, while a family museum in their ancestral village was trashed including life-size wax figures of their parents.

"I am deeply troubled by the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka after supporters of the prime minister attacked peaceful protesters in Colombo…and the subsequent mob violence against members of the ruling party," UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka imposes curfew after day of deadly unrest

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