Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa intends to resign next Wednesday, according to the Speaker of Parliament. “In order to ensure a peaceful transition, the President has declared that he will step down on July 13,” Mahinda Abeywardana said in a televised address on Saturday. Rajapaksa had previously fled the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, just before hundreds of protesters stormed the compound and building.

Mass protests have been going on in Sri Lanka for weeks because of a severe economic crisis. According to the police, hundreds of thousands of people had gathered at Rajapaksa’s official residence in the morning. Television footage showed hundreds of them climbing over the fence of the presidential palace. Soldiers brought the head of state to safety.

Rajapaksa’s whereabouts and further developments initially remained completely unclear. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who would take over if the president resigned, called a special government meeting with opposition politicians and offered his resignation. Wickremesinghe’s office said he wanted to pave the way for a new unity government.

However, he was apparently unable to calm the anger of the demonstrators: In the afternoon, a crowd also entered Wickremesinghe’s private residence and set it on fire, as the Prime Minister’s office announced. Pictures on online networks showed a crowd cheering the fire.

A major trigger of the worst economic crisis since the South Asian country gained independence in 1948 was the slump in international tourism as a result of the corona pandemic. The government was also accused of mismanagement.