Sri Lankan leader promises investigation into police shootings | Business and finance

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday promised an impartial and transparent investigation into a police shooting that left one dead and 13 others injured during protests over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

It was the first shooting by security forces in weeks of protests and has reignited widespread protests across the Indian Ocean island nation.

Rajapaksa said in a tweet that he was “deeply saddened” by Tuesday’s incident in Rambukkana, 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of the capital, Colombo, and urged “all citizens to abstain from all violence during their demonstrations”.

Public Security Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said on Wednesday that police had been patient but had to use minimal force to prevent protests from escalating into major violence.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa responded by asking parliament: “Does killing a protester mean the use of minimal force?”

“What this murderous and terrorist government is doing today is repression of the people,” he added.

Fifteen police officers were treated at a hospital for minor injuries after clashes with protesters on Tuesday. Police said protesters in Rambukkana blocked train tracks and roads and ignored police warnings to disperse. Police also said protesters threw rocks at them.

Protests spread to other parts of Sri Lanka on Wednesday as people used vehicles to block key roads as they demonstrated against shootings as well as rising fuel prices and the government’s failure to address increasingly serious economic problems.

In some areas, protesters burned tires and other objects, blocking roads and creating thick columns of smoke, TV channel Sirasa showed.

In Colombo, thousands of bank, port, health and other workers protested outside the main train station, condemning police shootings and demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation. They shouted slogans and displayed signs that read: “Bow down before the verdict of the people” and “Go home”. Gota is an abbreviated version of Rajapaksa’s first name.

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

Rajapaksa has resisted calls to resign.

Much of the anger expressed over the weeks of mounting protests has been directed at Rajapaksa and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who lead an influential clan that has been in power for most of the past two decades. Five other family members are lawmakers, three of whom resigned as ministers two weeks ago.

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 currency means that the country lacks money to purchase imported goods.

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

Fuel prices have risen several times in recent months, leading to sharp increases in transport costs and the prices of other goods. There was another round of increases earlier this week.

Diplomats and UN officials expressed concern over the shooting.

US Ambassador Julie Chung and UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer-Hamdy appealed to all parties for restraint and called on the authorities to guarantee the people’s right to peaceful protest. Chung also called for an independent investigation into Tuesday’s shooting.

Norwegian Ambassador Trine Joranli Eskedal and British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton have also called for an independent investigation while urging that the right to peaceful protest be safeguarded.

Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Tuesday that the constitution would be amended to reduce presidential powers and empower parliament. The prime minister said 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 recovery plan.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa concentrated power in the presidency after being elected in 2019.

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

Both the president and prime minister refused to step down, 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.

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