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Sri Lanka deploys troops in capital

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Sri Lankan authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops in the streets of the capital yesterday, two days after pro-government mobs attacked peaceful protesters, triggering a wave of violence across the country.

Security forces have been ordered to shoot those deemed to be participating in the violence, as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began on Monday evening.

Anti-government protesters have been demanding the resignations of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, who stepped down as prime minister this week, over a debt crisis that has nearly bankrupted Sri Lanka and left its people facing severe shortages of fuel, food and other essentials. In the past few days, eight people have died and more than 200 have been injured in violent attacks in which mobs set fire to buildings and vehicles.

Armoured trucks with soldiers riding on top rolled into some areas of Colombo. Defying the curfew, some protesters regrouped opposite the president’s office to continue demonstrations that began over three weeks ago.

Videos posted on social media showed lines of military trucks moving out of the capital, along with soldiers riding on motorbikes, and setting up checkpoints across the country amid fears that a political vacuum could pave the way for a military takeover.

Sri Lankan army soldiers patrol during curfew in Colombo, Sri Lanka. PHOTO: AP

The Defence Ministry’s top official Kamal Gunaratne, denied speculation of a military takeover at a news conference held with the country’s army and navy chiefs.

“None of our officers has a desire to take over the government. It has never happened in our country and it is not easy to do it here,” Gunaratne said.

President Rajapaksa is a former top army officer and remains the country’s official defence minister.

Gunaratne said the army will return to its barracks once the security situation normalises.
The United States (US) State Department expressed concern over the military deployment.

Spokesman Ned Price said it was “closely monitoring the deployment of troops, something that is of concern to us”.

The prime minister’s departure has created an administrative vacuum with no Cabinet, which dissolved automatically with his resignation.

Navy commander Nishantha Ulugetenne said the former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, is being protected at a naval base in Trincomalee on the northeastern coast.

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