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Sri Lanka defence chief rules out military coup

Sri Lankan troops are patrolling the streets nationwide with instructions to shoot on sight anyone attacking property or committing acts of violence. ©AFP

Colombo (AFP) - Sri Lanka's top defence official on Wednesday ruled out a military takeover despite the island nation's political deadlock and thousands of troops on the streets to keep order after two days of deadly mob violence.

Weeks of peaceful protests against a crippling economic crisis have boiled over after government loyalists attacked demonstrators demanding the country's leaders resign.

A nationwide curfew is in effect and troops are patrolling streets with instructions to shoot on sight anyone attacking property or committing acts of violence.

Footage of armoured personnel carriers moving around the streets of the capital Colombo have prompted accusations from opposition lawmakers and social media users that the country could be facing an imminent coup. 

"When there is a dangerous situation in the country, powers are given to the military to deal with it," Kamal Gunaratne, the secretary of Sri Lanka's defence ministry, told a press conference in response to the claims.

"Don't ever think that we are trying to capture power," he added."The military has no such intentions."

Gunaratne was a top field commander in the final battle that defeated Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers movement in 2009, ending a decades-old civil war. 

His superior at the time was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now serving as the nation's president.

The leader has kept to his tightly guarded official residence in recent weeks after huge protests calling on him to step down.

He has so far been unable to form a unity government to steer the country out of its financial crisis.

The defence chief said the government had asked the military to reinforce police because of the "dangerous situation" facing the country, with nine people killed in mob attacks since Monday.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa had earlier suggested that the violent unrest had been orchestrated to give the pretext for a coup. 

"In the guise of angry mobs, violence is being incited so military rule can be established," Premadasa wrote on Twitter.

And social media users said the country's military deployment could be the first step to a seizure of political power.

"If no political solution soon, army's...takeover is a real possibility," said Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research at Sweden's Uppsala University.

Despite Sri Lanka's long history of civil war and powerful armed forces, the island nation has never been subjected to a military takeover. 

A sole attempt at a military coup in 1962 ended in failure without a single shot fired.

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Dive Deeper:
Sri Lanka’s president refuses to stand down as rumours swirl of a military coup
In a televised address, Gotabaya Rajapaksa instead vows to replace the prime minister after his brother was forced to resign
Sri Lanka unrest: shoot on sight order issued as troops deployed in Colombo
Fears grow path is being laid for a military takeover, although this was denied by top defence official
Sri Lanka deploys troops in capital after violence and protests
Sri Lankan authorities have deployed armoured vehicles and troops in the streets of the capital Colombo, two days after pro-government…
Sri Lankan president vows to shed powers and appoint prime minister
Sri Lanka’s president has promised to appoint a new prime minister, empower the parliament and abolish the all-powerful executive presidential…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Troops move to quell unrest after deadly Sri Lanka clashes
Colombo (AFP) - Soldiers stood behind wrought-iron barricades and next to burnt-out buses in the heart of Sri Lanka's capital…
Sri Lanka's economy on brink of collapse as troops quell unrest
Colombo (AFP) - Sri Lanka's economy will "collapse" unless a new government is urgently appointed, the central bank chief warned…
Get all your news in one place