Rajapaksa flees as protesters storm President’s Palace


PM agrees to quit; Huge crowds demand President’s resignation

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his official residence on Saturday shortly before protesters, angered by an unprecedented economic crisis, stormed and overran the compound and on the other hand Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to resign after party leaders in Parliament demanded both he and the president step down

The prime minister’s spokesman, Dinouk Colambage, said Wickremesinghe told party leaders that he will resign when all parties have agreed on forming a new government.

His decision came after the biggest protest yet swept Sri Lanka on Saturday as tens of thousands of people broke through barricades and entered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and nearby office to vent their fury against a leader they hold responsible for the nation’s worst economic crisis.

Leaders of political parties in Parliament met after the storming of the president’s residence and decided to request Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down, opposition lawmaker Rauff Hakeem said on Twitter.

He said a consensus was reached that the parliamentary speaker should take over as temporary president and work to form an interim government, he said.

Huge crowds had surrounded the leader’s home to demand his resignation, blaming government mismanagement for the painful downturn.

As protesters surged at the gates of the President’s Palace, troops guarding the compound fired in the air to hold back the tide until Rajapaksa was safely removed, reported AFP.

“The president was escorted to safety,” the report added. “He is still the president, he is being protected by a military unit.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who would assume the presidency in the event of Rajapaksa s resignation, has called an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss a “swift resolution” to the political crisis, his office said.

Members of the crowd broadcast live footage on social media showing hundreds of people walking through the President’s Palace.

The colonial-era state mansion is one of Sri Lanka’s key symbols of state power and officials said Rajapaksa’s departure raised questions as to whether he intended to remain in office. “We are awaiting instructions,” AFP quoted a top civil servant. “We still don’t know where he is, but we know he is with the Sri Lanka navy and is safe.” Colombo’s main hospital said 14 people were being treated there after being hit by tear gas canisters.

Sri Lanka has suffered through months of food and fuel shortages, lengthy blackouts and galloping inflation after running out of foreign currency to import vital goods.

Thousands of people had poured into the capital for the demonstration, the latest expression of unrest sparked by the crisis.

Police had withdrawn a curfew order issued on Friday after opposition parties, rights activists and the bar association threatened to sue the police chief.

Thousands of anti-government protesters ignored the order and even forced railway authorities to operate trains to take them to Colombo for Saturday’s rally, officials said.

“The curfew was not a deterrent, in fact it encouraged more people to get on the streets in defiance,” the defence official said.

“Passengers had commandeered trains to reach Colombo.”

The country has nearly exhausted already scarce supplies of petrol, but protesters backed by the main opposition parties hired private buses to travel to the capital.

Demonstrators have camped outside Rajapaksa’s seafront office to demand his resignation over the government’s mismanagement of the crisis.

Soldiers armed with assault rifles were bussed into Colombo on Friday to reinforce police guarding Rajapaksa’s official residence. Authorities said they had deployed nearly 20,000 troops and police officers for a security operation to protect the president.—AFP


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