COLOMBO, April 20 (PTI): The police in Sri Lanka on Wednesday said that curfew will continue in the southwestern region of Rambukkana where one person was killed and 13 others were injured in violence after the police opened fire at unarmed anti-government protestors demonstrating against the latest fuel price hike.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that he was “deeply saddened” over the incident and asserted that citizens’ right to peacefully protest will not be hindered.
“Sri Lankan citizens’ right to peacefully protest won’t be hindered. @SL_PoliceMedia will carry out an impartial & transparent inquiry re the incident at Rambukkana which led to the tragedy for which I’m deeply saddened. I urge all citizens to refrain from violence as they protest,” Gotabaya said in a tweet.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said that he is “deeply distressed” over the Rambukkana violence and hoped for a strict and impartial investigation by the police.
“Deeply distressed following the tragedy in Rambukkana. I have every confidence that a strict, impartial investigation will be carried out by @SL_PoliceMedia who’ve always served #lka with utmost honor. I urge protesters to engage in their civic right with equal respect & honour,” he said on Twitter.
At least three of the 13 hospitalised protesters at Rambukkana, some 90 kilometers northeast of Colombo, were critical at the Kegalle hospital, according to officials. Fifteen police personnel have also been injured.
Police chief Chandana Wickremaratne told reporters that the police curfew imposed in the area would continue.
“Protesters got violent yesterday and blocked the railway track. They were demanding fuel at the old price having waited in the fuel queue for a long time,” he said.
When the police arranged two fuel bowsers, the protesters took out the battery of one of the vehicles, blocking the railway track, Wickremaratne said.
“The police used minimum force by firing tear gas,” the police chief said.
The death of a protester was the first during the ongoing protests over the worst-ever economic crisis in the country’s history.
Top bureaucrat of the public security ministry Jagath Alwis said the protesters tried to set on fire a fuel tanker having 33,000 liters of fuel.
The police were forced to open fire to prevent the bowser being set in flames by the protesters.
Alwis said a three-member probe committee has been appointed to probe if the police had used excessive power in opening the fire at protesters.
The embassies of the US, the EU and the UN resident coordinator have issued statements condemning the police shooting.
The latest fuel price hike on Monday night triggered street protests in many areas on Tuesday.
Oil entities in the island nation have been hiking the price regularly due to the shortage of fuel.
Meanwhile, the trade unions have collectively said that they would launch a black protest to force the resignation of the government for bungling on the ongoing economic crisis.
“We would hold a picketing campaign wearing black,” the teachers’ trade union boss Joseph Stalin said.