The Sri Lankan military had opened fire to contain rioting at a fuel station, officials said yesterday, as unprecedented waiting lines for gasoline and diesel were seen across the bankrupt country.
Troops on Saturday night fired in Visuvamadu, 365km north of Colombo, as their guard point was pelted with stones, military spokesman Nilantha Premaratne said.
“A group of 20 to 30 people pelted stones and damaged an army truck,” Premaratne said.
Police said four civilians and three soldiers were injured when the troops opened fire for the first time to quell unrest linked to the worsening economic crisis.
As the station ran out of gasoline, motorists began to protest and the situation escalated into a clash with troops, police said.
Sri Lanka is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence, with the country unable to find US dollars to import essentials, including food, fuel and medicines.
The nation’s 22 million population has been enduring acute shortages and long lines for scarce supplies, while Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has for months resisted calls to step down over mismanagement.
Sri Lanka has deployed armed police and troops to guard fuel stations.
A motorist was in April shot dead by police in the central town of Rambukkana when a clash erupted over the distribution of rationed gasoline and diesel.
Police said clashes involving motorists erupted at three locations over the weekend.
At least six constables were injured in one clash while seven motorists were arrested, they said.
The government declared a two-week shutdown of state institutions and schools to reduce commuting and conserve depleting fuel stocks.
The country is also facing record inflation and lengthy power cuts, all of which have contributed to months of protests.
Four out of five Sri Lankans have started skipping meals as they cannot afford to eat, the UN has said, warning of a looming “dire humanitarian crisis” with millions in need of aid.
The World Food Programme on Thursday began distributing food vouchers to about 2,000 pregnant women in Colombo’s “underserved” areas as part of “life-saving assistance.”
The agency is until December trying to raise US$60 million for a food relief effort.
Sri Lanka in April defaulted on its US$51 billion foreign debt and is in talks with the IMF for a bailout.
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