COLOMBO, April 19 (Reuters) – Sri Lankan police fired live ammunition to scatter protesters on Tuesday, killing one person and injuring a dozen more, as the country sought rapid financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease a worsening economic crisis.
Demonstrations have raged across the South Asian island country of 22 million people for weeks, voicing anger against the government’s mishandling of the economy that has led to shortages of essentials and prolonged power cuts.
Mihiri Priyangani, director of the Kegalle Teaching Hospital, said at least one protester was killed and 12 injured were hospitalised, including two in critical condition, after clashes broke out between demonstrators and police in the central town of Rambukkana.
The deceased person – the first fatality since the largely peaceful protests began last month – had likely been shot, Priyangani told Reuters. “We are suspecting gunshot injuries but need a post-mortem to confirm the exact cause of death.”
Disturbances erupted after police asked protesters to move away from a key railway line which they had blocked for hours, police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa said.
“To control the situation, police fired at the protesters,” Thalduwa told Reuters.
“Several injured policemen have also been hospitalised,” he said, adding live ammunition and tear gas had been used to repel a crowd pelting stones and other objects. “Police are still in the area and attempting to restore calm.”
Some rights groups and foreign diplomats called for restraint and condemned the violence in Rambukkana, where police imposed a curfew late on Tuesday.
“A full, transparent investigation is essential & the people’s right to peaceful protest must be upheld,” the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, said in a tweet.
Analysts have flagged political instability as a serious risk as Sri Lanka looks to negotiate a loan programme from the IMF, with a delegation headed by Finance Minister Ali Sabry kicking off formal talks in Washington on Monday.
The government is looking for assistance to help top up its reserves and attract bridge financing to pay for essential imports of fuel, food and medicines.