Dried streaks of blood and spent cartridges mark the ground where a sudden crackdown by Sri Lankan police ended with the first fatality from weeks of anti-government rallies.
Dozens of spontaneous demonstrations had broken out around the island nation on Tuesday, with incensed crowds blockading roads with burning tyres in protest at yet another huge hike in fuel costs.
In the central town of Rambukkana, a small assembly grew to a huge throng through the day that stopped traffic along an important highway and rail line linking Sri Lanka's capital Colombo and the central city of Kandy.
Residents told AFP the situation stayed calm until police fired tear gas to clear the way for tankers delivering a shipment of fuel -- one of many commodities that Sri Lanka's economic crisis has left in short supply.
"When the crowd were tear-gassed, they retaliated by throwing stones," said Cyril, the owner of a hotel near the site of the clash.
"Then the police started firing."
By the time the protesters scattered, one 42-year-old man was dead and nearly 30 others had been wounded, including several officers injured when the crowd pelted smouldering gas canisters back at the police column.
Authorities imposed a curfew which was still in effect on Wednesday. Most shops were shut but a defiant public returned to the streets to denounce the killing.
The government has promised an impartial probe into the incident and crime scene investigators arrived Wednesday to take stock of the shattered glass, stones and bullet casings littering the site.
Police said they had been forced to intervene when the crowd threatened to set alight one of the tankers, an account rubbished both by opposition lawmakers and witnesses.
"There was no reason for the police to start firing -- the protestors had blocked the railway tracks but there was no violence," Vasanta Kumara, a local chef, told AFP.
Kumara returned to the scene on Wednesday to find his wallet, which he said had been lost when he was clubbed repeatedly with a baton as officers in riot gear made their way through the crowd.
"I begged the cops not to beat me but they didn't listen," he said.
"I am very disappointed. This government is too arrogant to care about its people."
- 'Stop this violence' -
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has weathered weeks of angry calls to resign over his government's handling of the crisis, said he was "deeply saddened" by the clash.
"Sri Lankan citizens' right to peacefully protest won't be hindered," he added on Twitter.
Tuesday's death -- a father of two -- also triggered international condemnation from the US and British ambassadors.
Like the rest of Sri Lanka, Rambukkana's people have endured months of lengthy blackouts along with shortages of food, fuel and other essentials, as the country's painful economic downturn has steadily worsened.
Tuesday's deadly confrontation has only redoubled anger against authorities.
"Mister president... step down and stop this violence," Swarnajothi, a Buddhist monk from the area, told AFP.
"Please step down and leave us alone."