One dead, 24 injured in Sri Lanka protests

One dead, 24 injured in Sri Lanka protests

Sri Lankan police shot dead a protester and wounded 24 others on Tuesday in the first fatal clash between residents protesting the government over the island nation's economic crisis.

The South Asian country is in the grip of its most painful economic downturn since independence in 1948, with regular blackouts and shortages of fuel and other goods causing widespread misery.

Huge protests have called for the resignation of the government, which is preparing to negotiate an urgently needed bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

Police fired live rounds at a crowd that had blocked a railway line and highway connecting the capital Colombo with the central city of Kandy to protest oil shortages and high prices.

One man died of gunshot injuries, a hospital official told AFP by telephone.

Another 16 protesters were wounded, with eight in need of emergency surgery, while another eight police officers were injured when demonstrators threw back tear gas canisters they had fired at the crowd.

The protest was one of many spontaneous gatherings held around Sri Lanka on Tuesday after the country's main petrol retailer hiked prices by nearly 65 percent.

Local media footage showed dozens of police officers wearing anti-riot gear firing tear gas into the crowd.

A senior officer is heard shouting while directing his men to attack the crowds with tear gas.

It was not immediately clear what caused the police to use live rounds.

Police said demonstrators had stopped road and train traffic for hours at the time of the shooting.

A fuel bowser had been parked across railway tracks to block trains while burning tyres were blocking traffic on the nearby road.

Footage from the local hospital showed victims being rushed into the facility and a man pleading for someone to treat his brother, who had been shot in the abdomen.

My brother is bleeding, please rush quickly, the man shouted.

Hundreds of angry motorists blocked arterial roads with parked buses and burned tyre mounds to condemn the latest rise in fuel prices and months of acute shortages.

A large protest crowd has been camped outside the oceanfront office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for more than a week, demanding the leader step down.

Doctors at Sri Lanka's main children's hospital staged a protest on Tuesday over a shortage of medicines and equipment.

Rajapaksa appointed a new cabinet on Monday and acknowledged public anger over the ruling family's mismanagement in order to address growing calls for his entire government to resign.

The president said Monday that people are suffering because of the economic crisis, and I deeply regret it.

Sri Lanka is hoping to get three to four billion dollars from the IMF to overcome its balance-of- payments crisis and boost depleted reserves.

Some of Rajapaksa's lawmakers have turned against the administration and took seats on opposition benches in parliament on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka's economic meltdown began after the coronaviruses wiped out vital revenue from tourism and remittances.

The Colombo Stock Exchange and the government announced last week that it had to suspend trading in order to prevent a market collapse.

After a default on its entire external debt, Rajapaksa has urged citizens abroad to donate foreign exchange to help pay for desperately needed essentials.

Colombo sent a delegation to Washington to start talks with the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday.