Colombo, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has ordered troops to “shoot on sight” following violence that left several dead, as chaos unfolds on the streets of the crisis-hit nation.
The Ministry of Defense said Tuesday its troops have been ordered to shoot anyone found damaging state property or assaulting officials, following an attack on the Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police.
The order follows violent protests in the capital Colombo that left at least eight people dead, although it is unclear if all of the deaths were directly related to the protests. More than 200 people have been injured in the violence since Monday.
The island nation of 22 million is grappling with its worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948. Prices of everyday goods are soaring and there have been widespread electricity shortages for weeks. Thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the government’s alleged mishandling of the economy.
The military had to rescue the country’s outgoing Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in a pre-dawn operation on Tuesday, hours after he resigned following clashes between pro and anti-government protesters. The military were called after protesters twice tried to breach the prime minister’s ‘Temple Trees’ private residence compound overnight, a senior security source told CNN.
His resignation came after live television footage on Monday showed government supporters, armed with sticks, beating protesters at several locations across the capital, and tearing down and burning their tents. Dozens of homes were torched across the country amid the violence, according to witnesses CNN spoke to.
Armed troops were deployed to disperse the protesters, according to CNN’s team on the ground, while video footage showed police firing tear gas and water cannons.
A nationwide curfew has been imposed until Thursday.
However, it remains unclear if the curfew and the prime minister’s resignation will be enough to keep a lid on the increasingly volatile situation in the country.
Many protesters say their ultimate aim is to force President Gotabaya Rajapaksa – the prime minister’s brother – to step down, something he has so far shown no sign of doing.
In a statement Tuesday, the European Union and its 27 Member States condemned the “recent vicious attack against peaceful protesters” and called on authorities to investigate.
“The EU deplores the loss of life, including of a Member of Parliament, and the high number of injured people,” the statement said. “The EU recalls the importance to safeguard the democratic rights of all citizens, and to focus on solutions that will address the significant challenges currently faced by the Sri Lankans.”
Sri Lanka’s neighbor, India, has also weighed in.
“As a close neighbor of Sri Lanka, with historical ties, India is fully supportive of its democracy, stability and economic recovery,” a spokesperson from the Ministry of External Affairs said Tuesday.
“In keeping with our Neighborhood First policy, India has extended this year alone support worth over $3.5 billion to the people of Sri Lanka for helping them overcome their current difficulties. India will always be guided by the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka expressed through democratic processes.”