Sri Lankan authorities issued orders to shoot within sight on Tuesday to calm unrest that saw buildings and vehicles set ablaze, a day after the island was plunged into deadly riots.
With thousands of security forces imposing curfews, the Defense Ministry said the forces were “ordered to shoot anyone who loots public property or harms life.”
On Monday, government supporters with sticks and batons attacked protesters in Colombo for weeks of peaceful protest over a severe economic crisis and demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Then, late at night, mobs across the country retaliated, setting fire to dozens of ruling party politicians’ homes and trying to storm the prime minister’s official residence in the capital.
On Tuesday, police said eight people had died.
Protests continued on Tuesday despite the curfew, with some people defying orders to shoot at sight by burning buildings and vehicles.
A luxury hotel said to belong to a Rajapaksa relative was set on fire on Tuesday evening on the edge of the Sinharaja rainforest.
Police fired in the air at two locations to disperse mobs who tried to burn the vehicles.
Earlier, a crowd had attacked a car carrying the most senior policeman in Colombo and set it on fire.
Officers fired warning shots and sent reinforcements to rescue First Deputy Inspector General Dishabandu Tinakon, who was rushed to hospital, but later released.
In another sign of the deteriorating security situation, vigilante groups closed the main road to Colombo airport to check if any Rajapaksa loyalists attempted to leave the island, witnesses said.
Besides the dead, more than 225 people were injured on Monday, which also saw the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
But his departure failed to quell popular anger, as his brother remains president and wields sweeping powers including commanding the security forces.
Mahinda had to be rescued in a predawn military operation after thousands of angry protesters stormed his official residence overnight and threw petrol bombs.
Protester Shamal Buluwatag said he expected the demonstrations to intensify again and vowed they would not leave “until the president is gone”.
“People are angry about the attacks against us yesterday… We have a lot of volunteers bringing us food and water,” the 25-year-old told AFP.
– ‘Very disturbed’ –
The Rajapaksa clan’s grip on power has been shaken by months of power cuts and shortages of basic goods in Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
The pandemic has decimated vital tourism and forced the government to halt most imports to provide the foreign currency needed to pay off its debts, which it has now defaulted on.
But after weeks of peaceful demonstrations, Monday’s attacks on protesters by government supporters represented a turning point.
In the violence that followed, police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds and declared a curfew across the South Asian country until Wednesday, but later extended another day until Thursday.
Angry mobs set the homes of at least 42 Rajapaksa politicians on fire.
Many Rajapaksa homes were burnt down, while a family museum in their ancestral village was destroyed.
Police said ruling party lawmaker Amarakirthi Atukurala shot two people outside Colombo, killing one of them when a crowd surrounded him.
The officers said the MP later committed suicide, but the ruling party said he was killed. The legislator’s bodyguard was also killed.
Police added that another ruling party politician, whose name was not mentioned, shot dead two protesters and wounded five others in the south.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday she was “deeply disturbed” by violence by government supporters and subsequent “mob violence” against members of the ruling party.
In a statement, Bachelet called for an investigation and urged the government to “engage in a meaningful dialogue with all segments of society.”
The US State Department also repeated its call for an investigation into the clashes, saying Washington was concerned about the escalation of violence and the deployment of the military.
“We stress that peaceful protesters must never be subjected to violence or intimidation, whether from military force or civilian units,” spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Unity government? –
Washington also urged Sri Lanka’s political authorities to quickly “ensure public safety” and identify “solutions to achieve long-term economic and political stability.”
Mahinda Rajapaksa said his resignation was aimed at paving the way for a unity government, but it was not clear if the opposition would join any administration led by his brother.
The president has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers as well as judges, and is immune from prosecution.
Political sources said that attempts are underway to arrange an online meeting between the president and all political parties.
“Unless President Rajapaksa steps down, no one will be satisfied – whether the masses on the streets or key political stakeholders,” analyst Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center told AFP.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by the NDTV crew and is published from a syndicated feed.)