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Sri Lanka troops in capital ordered to shoot any protesters deemed violent

SRI LANKAN authorities deployed armoured vehicles and troops on the streets of the capital today, 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 violence, as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began on Monday evening.

Anti-government protests 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 shortages of fuel, food and other essentials.

In the past few days, eight people have died and more than 200 left injured amid violence, with protesters setting fire to buildings and vehicles.

Armoured trucks with soldiers atop were seen rolling into some areas of Colombo. Defying the curfew, 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.

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

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

The president is himself a former top army officer and remains the country’s official defence minister.

Mr Gunaratne said the army will return to its barracks once the security situation normalises.

Navy commander Nishantha Ulugetenne said former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is being protected at the naval base in Trincomalee on the north-eastern coast.

After Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, he and his family were evacuated from his official residence through thousands of protesters trying to break into the heavily guarded colonial-era building.

The Indian embassy denied social media speculation that “political persons” had fled to India and also rejected speculation that India was sending troops into Sri Lanka.

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