JUST IN: President flees as angry protesters storm his residence


Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa reportedly fled after anti-government protesters stormed his residence on Saturday and ransacked the palace.

A huge number of protesters surrounded his residence after thousands of people gathered for one of the largest anti-government marches in the capital Colombo amid the country’s unabated economic crisis.

Mr Rajapaksa was escorted from his official premises on Friday, two defence ministry officials said, citing his concerns to his security ahead of the planned protests.

In dramatic footage played by a private broadcaster, Sirasa TV, a large crowd was seen forcing its entry into the once tightly-guarded residence of the country’s highest-level official.

A Facebook livestream from inside the colonial-era white-washed building showed protesters carrying flags and helmets, running into the rooms and corridors after apparently overrunning the president’s palace.

It came hours after Sri Lankan police fired tear gas and used water cannons to break violent protests who defied curfew orders against holding the rallies.

Packed in overcrowded buses and trains, people from across the island nation poured into the capital city for 9 July protests that were planned to demand the resignation of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a fresh wave of resistance.

Unconfirmed visuals showed protesters wearing “Go Gota Go” headbands jumping into the pool of the presidential palace while another footage showed people in large numbers raising slogans through the staircase and corridors of the building.

Videos emerging from the president’s house showed protesters feasting in his kitchen and taking selfies on the beds in the rooms of the palace. People climbed on tabletops and ransacked the building.

A curfew which was imposed to thwart the massive rallies was withdrawn on Saturday after people defied it in large numbers. It only “encouraged more people to get on the streets in defiance”, a top defence official told AFP.

The orders to block the movement of people were lifted after opposition from rights group who called it “illegal and a blatant violation” of rights.

At least 21 people, including two police personnel, were injured in the protests on Saturday and several were hospitalised, hospital officials told Reuters.

To control the angry crowed at the presidential residence, police fired shots in the air but were unable to contain the overwhelming force, eyewitnesses said.

The whereabouts of the president were not immediately confirmed.

Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned an emergency meeting of political party leaders after the unprecedented storming of the resident’s house in the commercial capital

He has requeted the speaker to summon parliament, a statement from the prime minister’s office said

The anti-government protests since March have plagued the Indian Ocean nation of 22 million that was thrown into an unprecedented economic crisis as a chronic shortage of foreign currency to import basic necessities and soaring inflation has spelled devastation for people, who are grappling for basic food, medicines and fuel.

It is nearly bankrupt after defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history and is now seeking help from multilateral money lending banks as well as neighbours India, China and Japan.

Several analysts and people believe that Mr Rajapaksa is responsible for the economic crisis which was slowly taking shape in recent years to cascade into the country’s worst economic woes since its independence in 1948.

The country recorded the highest inflation in Asia, rising to 60 per cent.

— Independent

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