As a leader of a Tamil minority community, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Maithripala Sirisena has faced criticism from political opponents, particularly since he announced his intention to run for a fourth term in the next elections in 2019.
The latest controversy concerns his decision to order the deployment of troops into a district in the capital, Colombo, where police have been accused of murdering at least six people in recent weeks.
Sirisena told the media on Monday that the force was necessary because the Tamil community was “trying to destroy the government”.
He said that the military would not intervene, but warned that it would be punished.
“They are coming from all sides and we are trying to stop them,” Siriseni said, adding that the soldiers were to “neutralise” the protesters.
“We want to be able to speak freely and freely,” he said.
“There is a need for security for all citizens, including those who are the targets of the political violence,” he added.
The prime minister’s comments came after reports surfaced that two people were killed and seven others injured in clashes on Saturday.
The attacks were reported in the Tamil town of Kurnool.
On Sunday, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he would take steps to strengthen security in the country.
He added that his government would take action against those responsible for the violence.
In response to Sirisenes comments, political activists in the southern island of Colombo have been campaigning to ensure that the deployment was “legal” and not a reaction to the protests.
In a statement, a local opposition party said the Prime Minister was making a “mistake”.
“He is making a mistake by making the statement, when in fact he was making an order which could easily have been taken back,” said the opposition party, the Sri Lanka Democratic Alliance.
“In addition, it is unfortunate that the prime minister is being attacked on social media, where there are many people who have been critical of the prime Minister’s statement,” the party added.
Sirisesena said he was “concerned” about the violence, but added that he was taking steps to “defend the country”.
“I want to take steps towards peace, but we cannot allow the country to be destroyed because of these violent demonstrations,” he told reporters.
“We are trying hard to bring back harmony, but if these demonstrations continue we will be in trouble.”