Sri Lankan police open fire on protesters; 1 dead, 10 injured | national news

By KRISHAN FRANCIS and BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI – Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan police opened fire on a group of people protesting further fuel price increases on Tuesday, killing one person and injuring 10 others, in the first shooting by police. security forces during weeks of protests against the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Police confirmed firing at protesters in Rambukkana, 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Colombo, the capital. Police spokesman Nihal Talduwa said protesters were blocking railways and roads and ignoring police warnings to disperse.

Dr Mihiri Priyangani from Kegalle Government Hospital said 11 people were brought there with suspected gunshot wounds and one died. Two others were undergoing surgery, she said.

Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy, with almost $7 billion of its total external debt of $25 billion due to be repaid this year. A severe shortage of foreign exchange means that the country lacks money to buy imported goods.

People have endured months of shortages of essentials such as food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine, queuing for hours to buy the very limited supplies available.

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Fuel prices have risen several times in recent months, leading to sharp increases in transportation costs and the prices of other basic necessities. There was another round of increases at midnight Monday.

Thousands of protesters continued to occupy the entrance to the president’s office for an 11th day on Tuesday, blaming him for the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister said on Tuesday the constitution would be amended to curtail presidential powers and empower parliament, as protesters continued to demand the president and his powerful family step down.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told parliament that the change of power is a quick step that can be taken to stabilize the country politically and help talks with the International Monetary Fund on an economic stimulus package.

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

“While seeking solutions to the economic problems, it is important that we have political and social stability in the country,” Prime Minister Rajapaksa said, adding that restoring more power to parliament would be a start for reforms.

The Rajapaksa brothers are likely to retain their hold on power even if the constitution is amended, since they hold both offices.

President Rajapaksa admitted on Monday to making mistakes that led to the crisis, such as delaying an appeal for IMF assistance and banning agrochemicals in a bid to make Sri Lankan agriculture fully organic. Critics say the ban on imported fertilizers was aimed at preserving the country’s dwindling currency holdings and has seriously hurt farmers.

Both the president and the prime minister refused to resign, leading to a political stalemate. Opposition parties rejected the president’s proposal for a unity government, but were unable 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 had held Cabinet and non-Cabinet positions, in an apparent attempt to please protesters without giving up the his family’s grip on power.

Last week the government announced it was suspending foreign loan repayments pending talks with the IMF. Finance Minister Ali Sabry and officials left on Sunday for talks with the IMF. The IMF and World Bank are holding annual meetings in Washington this week.

Sri Lanka has also turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.

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