A group angry protesters on Sri Lanka have forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee his official residence upon their penetration of his abode. The protesters overran the compound and stormed his nearby office.
Sri Lankans have taken to the streets of the country to shout out against an unprecedented economic crisis which they have blamed on the government for mismanagement.
The mismanagement has led to a downturn which has subjected millions of Sri Lankans to untold hardship for months now.
The protesters numbering over a thousand trooped to the leaders home to demand his resignation as President of the island nation.
As the crowd surged at the gates of the presidential palace, troops guarding the compound fired in the air to hold them back until Rajapaksa was safely removed.
“The president was escorted to safety,” a top defence source told AFP on condition of anonymity. “He is still the president, he is being protected by a military unit.”
After surrounding and taking over the residence of the president many of the protesters decided to give themselves some presidential treat as many of them were seen in a video footage circulating on social media parading the compound, going through the luxurious bedrooms of the residence and jumping into the pool for a good swim.
Some lay on beds, others made tea and drank, and made “statements” from the conference room that Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe must immediately quit.
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,” a top civil servant told AFP. “We still don’t know where he is, but we know he is with the Sri Lanka navy and is safe.”
Private broadcasters showed what appeared to be a vehicle convoy belonging to the president at Sri Lanka’s main international airport, but there was no confirmation on whether he had left the island.
Soon after the crowd stormed the presidential palace, Rajapaksa’s nearby office also fell into the hands of protesters.
Security forces attempted to disperse the huge crowds that had mobbed Colombo’s administrative district.
Three people were hospitalised after being shot along with 36 others who suffered breathing difficulties following intense tear gas barrages, a spokeswoman for the main hospital in Colombo said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who should assume the presidency in the event of Rajapaksa’s resignation, called an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss a a way to bring resolution to the precarious situation rocking the country.
He Must go too
The prime minister has also fallen to the sword swinging in the nation after party leaders in parliament called for his resignation along with the president.
The parliament demanded that they both step on Saturday, the same day protesters invaded the presidents residence and office.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a voice statement that he will resign when all parties have agreed on a new government.
“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF. Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government,” he said.
Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe was appointed as the prime minister in May by Rajapaksa in the hope that the career politician would use his diplomacy and contacts to resuscitate a collapsed economy.
However, the people’s patience wore thin as shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas only increased and oil reserves ran dry.
Wickremesinghe said he suggested to the president to have an all-party government, but didn’t say anything about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. Opposition parties in Parliament were currently discussing the formation of a new government.
Many protesters have accused Wickremesinghe of trying to save Rajapaksa when he came under pressure to resign, as every other member of his powerful political dynasty had quit the Cabinet.
It was not clear if Rajapaksa was inside his residence when it was stormed earlier Saturday. A government spokesman, Mohan Samaranayake, said he had no information about his movements.