Widespread protests take over Sri Lanka after police shooting

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Thousands of people across Sri Lanka took to the streets on Wednesday, a day after police opened fire on protesters, killing one person and injuring 13 others, reigniting widespread protests amid the worst. economic crisis in the country in decades.

Protesters used vehicles to block major roads in many parts of the country as they protested the shooting, as well as rising fuel prices and the government’s failure to address deepening economic problems. The shooting was the first by Sri Lankan security forces during weeks of protests.

The shooting took place on Tuesday in Rambukkana, 90 kilometers northeast of Colombo, the capital. Fifteen police officers were also admitted to a hospital with minor injuries after clashes with protesters.

Police said protesters blocked railways and roads and ignored police warnings to disperse. Police also said protesters threw stones at them.

Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy, with nearly $7 billion of its total $25 billion in foreign debt due this year. A severe foreign exchange shortage means the country does not have the money to buy imported goods.

US Ambassador Julie Chung and UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer-Hamdy called for moderation from all sides and urged the authorities to guarantee the people’s right to peaceful protest.

Chung also called for an independent investigation into the shooting.

Sri Lankans faced months of shortages of essentials such as food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine, lining up for hours to buy the very limited stocks available.

Fuel prices have increased several times in recent months, resulting in sharp increases in transportation costs and the prices of other essentials. There was another round of increases earlier this week.

Thousands of protesters continued to occupy the entrance to the president’s office through the 12th day of Wednesday, blaming him for the economic crisis.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Tuesday the constitution will be amended to cut presidential powers and empower parliament, amid growing protests demanding the president and his powerful family resign.

Rajapaksa said the change in power was a quick step that could be taken to politically stabilize the country and help with negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on an economic recovery plan.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the prime minister’s brother, concentrated power on the presidency after being elected in 2019.

The Rajapaksa brothers will likely retain power even if the constitution is changed as they hold both positions.

Both the president and prime minister refused to step down, resulting in a political stalemate. Opposition parties rejected the president’s proposal for a unity government, but failed to muster a majority in parliament and form a new government.

In a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, the president named many new faces and left out four family members who held Cabinet rather than Cabinet positions, in an apparent attempt to please the protesters without giving up his family’s power. .

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