COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Police in Sri Lanka fired live ammunition to scatter protesters on Tuesday, killing one person and injuring dozens more, as the country sought rapid financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund to deal with the worsening economic crisis.
The government mishandled the economy that has led to shortages of essentials and prolonged power cuts has angered protesters across the South Asian island country of 22 million people for weeks.
Mihiri Priyangani, director of Kegalle Teaching Hospital, said at least one protester was killed and 12 were hospitalized, including two in critical condition, because of clashes between demonstrators and police officers in the central town of Rambukkana.
The first fatality since the largely peaceful protests began last month, the deceased person, Priyangani told Reuters, had most likely been shot. We are suspecting gunshot injuries but need a post-mortem to confirm the exact cause of death. The police asked people to move away from a key railway line that they had blocked for hours after the protesters began to erupt, police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa said.
The police fired at the protesters to control the situation, Thalduwa told Reuters.
He said a number of injured policemen had been hospitalized after live ammunition and tear gas had been used to repel a crowd pelting stones and other objects. The police are still in the area and trying to restore calm. Some rights groups and foreign diplomats called for restraint and condemned the violence in Rambukkana, where the police imposed a curfew late on Tuesday.
Julie Chung, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, said on Twitter that a full, transparent investigation is essential. The people's right to peaceful protest must be upheld.
As Sri Lanka looks to negotiate a loan program from the IMF, a delegation headed by Finance Minister Ali Sabry has flagged political instability as a serious risk, with a delegation headed by Finance Minister Ali Sabry kicking off formal talks in Washington on Monday.
The government is looking for help to top up its reserves and attract bridge financing to pay for essential imports of fuel, food and medicines.
Critics say the financial crisis came from the effects of financial mismanagement by successive governments, exacerbated by the coronaviruses and rising fuel prices sapped foreign reserves. Fuel, power, food and medicines have been low for a few weeks.