COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Police today fired on thousands of Sinhalese youths who set afire vehicles and buildings to protest an accord to end the island's civil war with Tamil rebels. At least 19 people were killed and 117 injured, hospital sources said.
Army, navy and air force troops with submachine guns were deployed in the city's center to help police prevent further violence, and a 12-hour curfew was slapped on most of Colombo.
The four hours of rioting erupted one day before Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was to arrive to sign with President Junius Jayewardene an accord aimed at settling the island's bloody civil war by granting greater autonomy to the provinces where most of the predominantly Hindu Tamil minority of 2 million live. (Story, Page 11.)
About 5,000 youthful backers of the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Movement to Defend the Motherland, a right-wing Sinhalese group, gathered at the main railway station for a rally protesting the accord, which they believe will lead to a partition of the country into Tamil and Sinhalese areas.
Monks Among Protesters
The crowd, which included saffron-robed Buddhist monks, chanted slogans protesting the accord. Rioting erupted when police enforcing a citywide ban on demonstrations fired tear gas.
Protesters set afire police vehicles and state-owned buses, and thick smoke spewed over the area. The demonstrators stormed through streets around the railway station, overturning cigarette kiosks and barricading the sector's main roadway.
Police at first stayed on the fringes of the rioting, blocking roads to prevent the trouble from spreading. But after tear gas failed to disperse the crowds, officers moved in, firing rifles and shotguns.
Colombo General Hospital sources said at least 19 people were killed and 117 wounded, all by police gunfire.
"We are not against the Tamils. We are fighting Rajiv Gandhi. We want Jayewardene to die," one rioter said.
Hundreds of people were trapped in the train station, where protesters taking cover seized control of the public address system and broadcast anti-government statements.
Rioting spilled into five adjacent areas, where youths stopped traffic, forcing drivers to abandon their vehicles. Dozens of public buses were set afire and rocks and bricks thrown at buildings, shattering scores of windows.
An one area, a fire started by rioters gutted a building housing offices of two government ministries.