Thousands of protesters in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo stormed the president’s official residence and his secretariat on Saturday amid months of mounting public anger over the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.
Some protesters with Sri Lankan flags and helmets broke into the President’s residence, video footage from local news channel NewsFirst showed.
Thousands also broke down the gates of the seaside secretariat and Treasury Department, which has been the scene of a sit-in protest for months, and entered the premises, television footage showed.
Military personnel and police in both locations were unable to hold back the crowds as they chanted slogans calling on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign.
Two Defense Ministry sources said President Rajapaksa was removed from the official residence on Friday for his safety ahead of the weekend’s planned rally.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called an emergency meeting of party leaders on Saturday to discuss the situation and find a quick solution, his office said in a statement.
He asked the speaker to convene parliament, the statement said.
Wickremesinghe has also been moved to a safe location, a government source told Reuters.
A Facebook livestream from the President’s home showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in flags, crowding into rooms and corridors, shouting anti-Rajapaksa slogans.
Video footage of protesters standing in the swimming pool at the President’s house, some bathing, has been widely circulated on social media sites.
Hundreds also swarmed the grounds outside the whitewashed colonial-era building. There were no security guards in sight.
At least 39 people, including two police officers, were injured and hospitalized during the protests, hospital sources told Reuters.
The island of 22 million is struggling with a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicines and plunged it into its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
Rising inflation, which hit a record 54.6% in June and is expected to reach 70% in the coming months, has weighed on the population.
Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund, which is seeking a $3 billion bailout, a restructuring of some external debt and raising funds from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the dollar drought.
The crisis comes after COVID-19 battered the tourism-dependent economy and severely cut remittances from foreign workers, and was compounded by last year’s build-up of huge national debt, soaring oil prices and a devastating import ban on chemical fertilizers used in agriculture. The fertilizer ban was reversed in November last year.
However, many blame the country’s decline on economic mismanagement by President Rajapaksa. Largely peaceful protests since March have called for his resignation.
Thousands of people poured into Colombo’s government district, shouting anti-president slogans and dismantling several police barricades to reach Rajapaksa’s home, a Reuters witness said.
Police fired shots in the air but couldn’t stop the angry crowd from surrounding the president’s residence, the witness said.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the whereabouts of the president.
Despite a severe fuel shortage that has brought transport services to a halt, protesters from several parts of the country have crowded onto buses, trains and trucks to reach Colombo to protest the government’s failure to protect them from economic ruin.
Discontent has worsened in recent weeks as the financially strapped country stopped receiving fuel supplies, forced schools to close and rationed petrol and diesel for basic services.
Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman, took a crowded bus from the coastal town of Negombo, 30 miles north of Colombo, to join the protest.
“We kept telling Gota to go home, but he’s still clinging to power. We won’t stop until he listens to us,” Perera said.
https://nypost.com/2022/07/09/sri-lanka-protesters-storm-president-gotabaya-rajapaksas-house/ Sri Lankan protesters storm the home of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa