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Sri Lankan PM says he made mistake by not attending NSC meeting on Rambukkana violence

Colombo, Apr 22 (PTI) Embattled Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa admitted on Friday that he made a mistake by not attending a National Security Council’s meeting over the violence in the southwestern region of Rambukkana where one person was killed after the police opened fire at unarmed anti-government protestors demonstrating against the latest fuel price hike.

His comments came in response to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s criticism as to why the prime minister was not invited to the NSC meeting to discuss the Rambukkana incident.

I was invited. But I did not attend. It’s my fault. But I was briefed on the progress that evening,” the Prime Minister told Parliament.

The government led by Prime Minister’s brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is under fire for handling the economic crisis in the country.

Chaminda Lakshan, 41, was killed in the violence in Rambukkana.

Sri Lanka is grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.

The island nation is witnessing large-scale protests against the government’s handling of the debt-ridden economy – the worst-ever economic crisis in the country’s history.

Protests demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa and his Sri Lanka Podujana (Peramuna)-led government have intensified as shortages continued and prices soared.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s top police officers, including Inspector General (IGP) of Police C D Wickramaratne, on Friday appeared before the country’s human rights commission to record their statements about the violence.

The police have been criticised for escalating the protest by provoking the public. One person was killed and 13 others were injured in the violence.

Chairperson of the Commission Justice (Retired) Rohini Marasinghe in a statement said the IGP, the Senior DIG and the DIG in Charge of the Central Province, the Senior Superintendent of Police of Kegalle, and the Officers in Charge of the Kegalle and Rambukkana Police Stations had been summoned before the Commission at 11 am.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), these officers were called to the commission about its onward investigations into the clash between the police and the protesters in the Rambukkana area on April 19.

The HRCSL statement said investigations are being conducted to determine the persons responsible for issuing directives to policemen at the scene to open fire at protesters and the reasons that led to live ammunition being used.

The Commission will visit the residents of Rambukkana who were part of the protests, the policemen who were deployed to the area, journalists covering the incident, the Judicial Medical Officer, and hospital staff who treated the injured protesters as part of investigations.

Based on the report submitted by the investigative team, the Human Rights Commission will make recommendations to the government over the incident, the Colombo Gazette newspaper reported.

Police Spokesman, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nihal Thalduwa had said that the police had opened fire after initially using tear gas.

He said that the Police had opened fire when the protesters had attempted to set fire to a fuel truck.

The police media unit said that several policemen were also injured in the incident.

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