According to TV reports, protesters in Sri Lanka broke into the official residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Cell phone pictures on Saturday showed a large number of people inside the well-fortified building and on the property in front of it. Videos posted on social media showed hundreds rushing into the residence shouting, “Goto go home.” The head of state fled the presidential palace, according to defense circles. He was brought “to safety” and is being protected by the military in a secret location.
Police fired tear gas at thousands of demonstrators who waved national flags and called for Rajapaksa’s resignation. The protesters broke through barriers and entered the official residence. Security personnel tried to stop them. A scuffle ensued. At least 34 people were injured, including two police officers. A representative from the nation’s hospital said two of the injured were in critical condition.
The demonstrators had previously gathered in their thousands at Rajapaksa’s official residence. Television footage showed hundreds of them climbing over the fence of the presidential palace. Soldiers at the presidential palace fired into the air to ward off the crowd until Rajapaksa was safe, according to defense sources.
The demonstrators then strolled through the palace relatively unhindered. Live videos on online networks showed some even splashing around in the president’s swimming pool and curling up laughing in the palace’s bedrooms. People also broke into the nearby presidential office, in front of which demonstrators have been camping for three months. According to government officials, it is completely unclear how things will continue after Rajapaksa’s escape. “We are awaiting instructions,” a senior official told AFP news agency. “We still don’t know where he is. But we know he’s safe.”
The demonstrators hold Rajapaksa responsible for the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 and are also demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who only took office in May. Sri Lanka announced in April that it would not continue to repay its foreign debt for the time being because it did not have enough foreign currency. They amount to around 50 billion euros.
The police have imposed a curfew in the capital Colombo and neighboring areas. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa nevertheless called for participation in the demonstration. “Defy the dictatorship and join the people so that democracy wins. We can do it,” he said.
There have been regular protests in Sri Lanka for months, sometimes accompanied by violence. The 22 million inhabitants lack food, fuel and medicines. The reason is, among other things, a strong devaluation of the national currency, which made imports significantly more expensive. The population blames President Rajapaksa for this. The government under the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced reforms. But this could not calm the population, displeasure has increased in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe has announced his resignation. Spokesman Dinouk Colambage said on Saturday that he would leave office once all parties had agreed to form a new government. The leaders of the parties had previously demanded the resignation of Wickremesinghe and President Rajapaksa.