Sri Lanka issues ‘shoot on sight’ orders to troops as chaos continues

The Defense Department said on Tuesday its troops were ordered to shoot anyone who damages government property or attacks officials after attacking a senior deputy inspector general of police.

The order follows violent protests in the capital Colombo that have left at least eight people dead, although it is not clear if all of the deaths were directly related to the protests. More than 200 people have been injured in the unrest since Monday.

The island nation of 22 million is grappling with the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. The prices of everyday goods are skyrocketing and there has been widespread power shortages for several weeks. Thousands took to the streets to protest the government’s alleged mishandling of the economy.

The military had to rescue outgoing Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in a pre-dawn operation on Tuesday, hours after he stepped down after clashes between supporters and anti-government protesters. The military was called in after protesters tried twice at night to break into the prime minister’s private residence Temple Trees, a senior security source told CNN.

His resignation comes after government supporters armed with sticks were shown on live TV on Monday beating protesters at multiple locations across the capital and tearing down and burning their tents. Dozens of homes were burned across the country amid the violence, according to witnesses interviewed by CNN.

Military forces were deployed to disperse the protesters, according to a CNN team on the ground, and video footage shows police using tear gas and water cannons.

A nationwide curfew is in effect until Thursday.

However, it remains unclear whether a curfew and the resignation of the prime minister will be enough to contain the increasingly unstable situation in the country.

Many protesters say their ultimate goal is to force President Gotabai Rajapaksa, the prime minister’s brother, to resign, which he has not done so far.

In a statement on Tuesday, the European Union and its 27 member states condemned the “recent brutal attack on peaceful demonstrators” and called on the authorities to investigate.

“The EU deplores the loss of life, including a Member of Parliament, and the large number of people injured,” the statement said. “The EU recalls the importance of protecting the democratic rights of all citizens and focusing on solutions that will help solve the serious problems that Sri Lankans are currently facing.”

Sri Lanka’s neighbor India also spoke out.

“As a close neighbor of Sri Lanka with historical ties, India fully supports its democracy, stability and economic recovery,” a foreign ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

“In line with our Good Neighbor Policy, India has provided more than $3.5 billion in support this year alone to the people of Sri Lanka to help them overcome their current difficulties. India will always be guided by the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka expressed through democratic processes.”

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