First protest death boosts calls to oust Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa

The first death after weeks of protests in Sri Lanka over food and fuel shortages prompted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign, with a prominent opposition leader saying Rajapaksa was “responsible for every death.”

The police media unit in the capital Colombo said over the phone that officers fired live rounds in the central Rambukana area on Tuesday night after they failed to disperse a group of protesters who blocked a train track and tried to set a diesel truck on fire. Of. According to Agence France-Presse and several local media outlets, one person was killed in the clash.

The injured, including police officers, were taken to the nearby Kegale Hospital, the police media unit said, adding that an indefinite curfew has been imposed in the area. The protesters pelted stones at the police.

“Resign now!” Harsha de Silva, an MLA from the main opposition Samagi Jana Balvegaya party, said in a Twitter post directed at the President. As the head of state, “you are responsible for every death.”

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis – the worst since gaining independence more than 70 years ago – has brought angry citizens to the streets demanding the removal of the Rajapaksa family. The government is now seeking $4 billion in emergency aid this year to help the island nation reduce hourly power cuts, shorten fuel lines running for miles, and pay for imports of life-saving drugs and food. can get help.

Namal Rajapaksa, the prime minister’s son and ruling party legislator, urged “authorities and protesters not to indulge in violence and prevent it from escalating further.” The government did not immediately issue a statement on the use of death and live ammunition to disperse the crowd.

The violence was condemned on social media, including by many local celebrities and cricket stars. US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung said she was “deeply saddened by the terrible news” and called for a “full, transparent investigation”.

Former national cricketer Kumar Sangakkara also tweeted, “The use of lethal force against unarmed protesters is unconscious.”

Anticipations of action have been looming for weeks as protesters have been camping in the city of Colombo to pressure President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down. In a statement on Saturday, the military denied “horrific” rumors that soldiers were now training to attack protesters.

While Rajapaksa has resisted calls to step down, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – the president’s brother – said on Tuesday that the government would support moves to trim the president’s powers into an apparent olive branch to protesters. However, he has not elaborated on the details of the constitutional changes he proposes, and it is unclear whether this will placate the family’s opponents.

A delegation led by Finance Minister Ali Sabri arrived in Washington this week in the hope of getting faster funding from the International Monetary Fund. An official of the multilateral lender said in Washington on Tuesday night that discussions are still at an early stage.

“We are deeply concerned about the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka and the hardships of the people,” Masahiro Nozaki, the IMF’s mission chief for the South Asian nation, said in a statement confirming talks this week with a delegation from Colombo. “Approval of an IMF-backed program for Sri Lanka will require substantial assurance that debt stability will be restored.”

Those assurances are also important for distributing any emergency funding, he said.

The delegation’s visit follows the central bank’s decision this month to hike interest rates by a record 700 basis points. State-run Ceylon Petroleum Corp on Tuesday raised petrol prices for the second time in April as imports turned costlier after officials ran out of dollars to protect a currency peg and allow the rupee to float free.

Sri Lanka’s stock exchange is closed this week to allow investors to assess the economic situation. The 5.875% note due on July 25 was up 0.25 percent on the dollar on Wednesday at 47.27 cents.

Newly appointed Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Twitter on Tuesday that the country has received fresh supplies of coal and diesel, easing the fuel and power crisis.

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