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Three women crushed to death in Sri Lanka stampede for $8 handout

  • News Desk

    Agence France-Presse

Colombo, Sri Lanka   /   Fri, May 22, 2020   /   07:13 am
Three women crushed to death in Sri Lanka stampede for $8 handout A policeman stands guard next to footwear scattered outside a warehouse, where three women were crushed to death in a stampede while waiting to receive a cash donation, in Colombo May 21, 2020. - Three women who lined up to receive an eight dollar cash donation in Sri Lanka's curfew-bound capital were crushed to death in a stampede on May 21, police and residents said. About 1,000 men and women had formed separate queues outside a warehouse of a businessman to receive his annual cash donations during the holy month of Ramadan, local MP Mujibur Rahman said. (AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi )

Three women were trampled to death during a stampede for an $8 cash handout in Colombo Thursday, amid growing desperation among Sri Lankans struggling to make ends meet during a coronavirus lockdown that has smashed the economy.

Some 1,000 people queued outside a businessman's warehouse for his annual handout during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, local member of parliament Mujibur Rahman said.

There was a rush for the 1,500-rupee gift -- about the same amount as a laborer’s daily wage -- when the gates opened, he said.

"Some people tried to break the queue and enter," Rahman told AFP.

"That is when the women at the top of the queue fell and were trampled to death."

Nine others were seriously hurt in the stampede and taken to hospital, he said, adding that there was a larger-than-usual crowd during this year's event, which has been taking place for decades.

"People have not earned any money for two months because of the virus lockdown [since March 20]," Rahman said.

"People are desperate. When they heard about today's donation, over a thousand turned up."

The businessman, who has not been named by authorities, and five of his assistants were arrested for violating the lockdown, Colombo police chief Deshabandu Tennakoon told reporters.

Government cash handouts this month -- 5,000 rupees each to 5.14 million families living below the poverty line -- also sparked chaotic scenes in villages.

Colombo and a neighboring district are under lockdown, although some of the virus restrictions have been lifted in other parts of Sri Lanka.

The country has recorded 1,045 infections including nine deaths so far.