- Army categorically denied having opened fire towards the protesters
- Thousands of irate anti-government protesters on Saturday stormed into President residence
- Video footage of the confrontation went viral on social media
The Sri Lankan Army has dismissed claims that it shot directly at protesters who attempted to enter embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence in central Colombo's high-security Fort area during the weekend. Thousands of irate anti-government protesters on Saturday stormed into embattled President Rajapaksa’s official residence after breaking the barricades, as they demanded his resignation over the island nation's worst economic crisis in recent memory. Tear gas and water cannons were used while shots were also fired by the military to try and disperse the crowd. Later, video footage of the confrontation went viral on social media showing security forces shooting moments before protesters entered the President's House.
In a media statement, the Army on Sunday said that its attention has been drawn to a few video clips going viral claiming that the Army troops opened fire at protesters in order to cause intentional harm to them when they were attempting to forcibly enter the President’s House compound on Saturday afternoon, Colombo Gazette reported. The Army categorically denied having opened fire towards the protesters, but said it fired a few rounds in the air and towards the sidewalls of the main gate entrance to the President’s House compound as a deterrent, aimed at preventing the entry of the protesters into the compound, it added. The Army said that firing into the air and sidewalls do not therefore necessarily mean that those Army personnel on duty were intent on causing deliberate harm to the protesters, it reported.
Rajapaksa, the 73-year-old politician, is the first person with the army background to be elected as Sri Lanka's President in 2019. On Sunday, Army chief General Shavendra Silva said that an opportunity to resolve the current political crisis in a peaceful manner is now available and sought the people's support to maintain peace in the island nation, hours after President Rajapaksa agreed to step down on July 13.
He requested all Sri Lankans to support the Armed Forces and the Police to ensure that peace is maintained in the country. Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials. The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.