Sri Lanka orders ‘offensive’ to contain riots

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police have been ordered to go on the offensive and use live ammunition to stop the riots, a top official told AFP on Wednesday, after another night of sporadic arson.
Police say eight people have been killed since Monday, when frustration over the severe economic crisis on the island turned into violence between supporters and opponents of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Even with a curfew and thousands of security forces told to “shoot at the scene” to prevent further unrest, a luxury hotel believed to belong to a Rajapaksa relative was set on fire on Tuesday night.
“It is no longer spontaneous anger, but organized violence,” the senior security official said on condition of anonymity.
“If the situation is not brought under control, there could be total anarchy.”
The security official said the 85,000-strong police force “has been asked to take an offensive stance” and ordered to use live ammunition against troublemakers.
A curfew imposed on Monday shortly after the violence broke out was due to be lifted Wednesday morning, but was extended for a further 24 hours due to ongoing violence.
In addition to the hotel fire, police said they fired into the air at two locations on Tuesday evening to disperse crowds trying to set vehicles on fire.
They also stepped up security for several judges and said they were also targeted.
Unrest in Sri Lanka has intensified after Monday’s events, when government supporters with sticks and clubs attacked protesters in Colombo who had been peacefully protesting the economic crisis for weeks and demanding President Rajapaksa’s resignation.
Then, late into the night, mobs across the country set fire to dozens of houses of ruling party politicians and attempted to storm the prime minister’s residence in the capital.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, had to be rescued in a military operation before dawn on Tuesday after thousands of angry protesters stormed his residence hours after his resignation as prime minister.
Sri Lanka had just started staff-level talks with the International Monetary Fund about a possible bailout after the country ran out of dollars to import even the most essential items.
Following calls from the UN chief of rights and the European Union, the United States said on Tuesday it was concerned about the escalating violence as well as the military’s deployment.
“We emphasize that peaceful protesters should never be subjected to violence or intimidation, whether from the military or civilian units,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

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