Sri Lankan police have been ordered to go on the offensive and use live ammunition to quell the unrest, following a night of sporadic arson attacks, a senior official told AFP on Wednesday.
According to police, eight people have been killed since Monday when protests over the island’s dire economic situation escalated into violent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Despite a curfew and the presence of thousands of security officers, a luxury hotel believed to belong to a relative of Rajapaksa was burned down on Tuesday night.
“It is no longer spontaneous anger, but organized violence,” said a senior security official on condition of anonymity.
“If the situation is not controlled, there will be total anarchy,” he added.
The security official said police were asked to “take an offensive stance” and use live ammunition against the rioters.
A curfew imposed after the violence broke out on Monday was due to be lifted on Wednesday morning, but was extended for another 24 hours due to continued violence.
In addition to the hotel fire, police said they fired into the air at two locations to disperse people trying to burn vehicles.
They also increased the security of several trials by pointing out that they too are in danger.
Unrest in Sri Lanka escalated on Monday when government supporters armed with sticks and clubs attacked protesters in central Colombo who were peacefully protesting the economic crisis and demanding the resignation of the president.
Mobs retaliated across the country by burning dozens of houses of ruling politicians and attempting to invade the prime minister’s official residence in the capital.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, was rescued in an operation early Tuesday after thousands of protesters stormed his residence after he resigned as prime minister.
Sri Lanka has just started talks with the International Monetary Fund on a rescue plan after the country ran out of foreign currency to import even the most essential goods.