Sri Lankan protesters negotiate to end occupation

Sri Lankan anti-government demonstrators on Thursday were negotiating the return of the official buildings they seized despite insisting that the president and prime minister resign in the face of the economic crisis, protesters said.

Protesters seized the palace of President Gotabay Rajapaksa over the weekend, forcing him to flee to the Maldives on Wednesday, when activists also stormed the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

the prime minister, who Rajapaksa appointed acting president in his absence, demanded the evacuation of government buildings, and instructed security forces to do “everything necessary to restore order”.

A senior Buddhist monk supporting the campaign has called for the more than 200-year-old presidential palace to be returned to the authorities and its valuable art and artifacts to be preserved.

“This building is a national treasure and must be protected,” monk Omalpe Sobita told reporters. “There must be a proper audit and the property must be returned to the state.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the complex since it was opened to the public after Rajapaksa escaped and his guards retreated.

“There is an intention to return the buildings to the authorities,” an activist involved in the #GotaGoHome campaign told AFP.

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In a televised address after thousands of people occupied his office in Colombo, Wickremesinghe said: “Those who come to my office want to prevent me from fulfilling my duties as acting president.

“We cannot let the fascists take over. That is why I have declared a nationwide state of emergency and a curfew,” he added.

The curfew was lifted at dawn on Thursday, but police said a soldier and a constable were injured in overnight clashes with protesters outside the national parliament.

The assassination attempt on the legislature was repulsed, in contrast to other places where the protesters achieved impressive success.

The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were hospitalized with injuries on Wednesday, one person suffocated and died in a tear gas attack on the prime minister’s office.

Rajapaksa promised to resign on Wednesday, but this was not announced.

He remained in the Maldives, reportedly waiting for a private jet to fly him, his wife Ioma and two bodyguards to Singapore.

Diplomatic sources said Rajapaksa’s attempts to get a visa to the United States were rejected because he renounced his US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.

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