Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flees as protesters storm his home

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left his official residence on Saturday shortly before protesters, angered by the unprecedented economic crisis, took over the complex and stormed his adjoining office.
Thousands of people surrounded the leader’s house, demanding his resignation, blaming government mismanagement for a recession that has left the island nation’s 22 million residents in severe hardship for months.

As the crowd surged towards the gates of the presidential palace, the soldiers guarding the complex fired into the air to hold them back until Rajapaksa was safely removed.


“The president has been taken to a safe location,” a senior defense source told AFP on condition of anonymity. “He is still the president, he is guarded by a military unit.”
Footage broadcast live on social media showed hundreds of people walking around the palace, with some of the noisy crowd jumping into the complex’s pool for a swim.
Others were seen laughing and lounging in the stately bedrooms of the residence.
The colonial-era state mansion is one of Sri Lanka’s key symbols of state power, and officials have said Rajapaksa’s departure has raised questions about whether he intends to remain in office.

“We are awaiting instructions,” a senior government official told AFP. “We still don’t know where he is, but we do know he is with the Sri Lankan Navy and safe.”

Security forces use water cannons to disperse an anti-government protest.

Security forces use water cannons to disperse an anti-government protest. The protesters are demanding the resignation of the president due to the alleged inability to cope with the economic crisis. Source: A MONKEY / Chamila Karunaratne

Private broadcasters showed what appeared to be the president’s motorcade at Sri Lanka’s main international airport, but it was not confirmed if he left the island.

Shortly after the mob stormed the presidential palace, Rajapaksa’s nearby office also fell into the hands of protesters.
Security forces attempted to disperse the huge crowds surrounding the Colombo administrative region.
Three people were hospitalized after being injured, along with 36 others who had difficulty breathing after being hit with intense tear gas, a spokeswoman for the main hospital in Colombo said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who will become president if Rajapaksa resigns, has called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss “an early resolution” of the political crisis.

“Not a deterrent”

Sri Lanka suffered months of food and fuel shortages, prolonged power outages and runaway inflation after running out of foreign exchange to import vital goods.
Thousands of people poured into the capital for Saturday’s demonstration, another outbreak of unrest caused by the crisis.
Police lifted Friday’s curfew after opposition parties, human rights activists and the Bar Association threatened to sue the police chief.
Thousands of anti-government demonstrators defied stay-at-home orders and even forced railway authorities to use 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 take to the streets in defense,” a Defense Department spokesman said.

The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka said that the country's economy has collapsed image

“Passengers ordered trains to reach Colombo.”
The country has nearly run out of already meager gasoline supplies, but protesters backed by major opposition parties have hired private buses to travel to the capital.
Demonstrators have been camping outside Rajapaksa’s seafront office for months demanding his resignation due to government mismanagement of the crisis.
Soldiers armed with machine guns were flown into Colombo on Friday to reinforce the police guarding Rajapaksa’s official residence.
The authorities said they sent about 20,000 military and police personnel to the presidential security operation.
Sri Lanka has defaulted on its A$74 billion ($51 billion) external debt and is negotiating bailouts with the International Monetary Fund.

Nine people were killed and hundreds injured when clashes erupted across the country after Rajapaksa supporters attacked peaceful demonstrators outside the president’s office in May.