Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sri Lankans storm President’s residence; torch PM’s home

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his official residence on Saturday shortly before protesters, angered by an unprecedented economic crisis, overran the compound and stormed his nearby office.
Thousands of people had surrounded the leader’s home to demand his resignation, blaming government mismanagement for a downturn that has subjected the island nation’s 22 million people to months of bitter hardship.
As the crowd surged at the gates of the presidential palace, troops guarding the compound fired in the air to hold them back until Rajapaksa was safely removed.
“The president was escorted to safety,” a top defence source told AFP on condition of anonymity. “He is still the president, he is being protected by a military unit.”
Footage broadcast live on social media showed hundreds of people walking through the palace, with some among the boisterous crowd jumping into the compound’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 said Rajapaksa’s departure raised questions as to whether he intended to remain in office.
“We are awaiting instructions,” a top civil servant told AFP. “We still don’t know where he is, but we know he is with the Sri Lanka navy and is safe.”
Private broadcasters showed what appeared to be a vehicle convoy belonging to the president at Sri Lanka’s main international airport, but there was no confirmation on whether he had left the island.
Soon after the crowd stormed the presidential palace, Rajapaksa’s nearby office also fell into the hands of protesters. Security forces attempted to disperse the huge crowds that had mobbed Colombo’s administrative district.
Three people were hospitalised after being shot along with 36 others who suffered breathing difficulties following intense tear gas barrages, a spokeswoman for the main hospital in Colombo said.
Thousands of people had poured into the capital for Saturday’s demonstration, the latest outbreak of unrest sparked by the crisis.

Protesters set PM’s private residence on fire

Firefighters try to douse a fire at PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence, in Colombo Saturday. AP/PTI)

A group of protesters on Saturday entered the private residence of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and set it on fire, hours after he offered to resign to make way for an all-party government amid unprecedented protests in the country for the resignation of the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The protestors entered 73-year-old Wickremesinghe’s house on 5th Lane in Colombo and set the place on fire after a tense situation erupted between the protestors and security forces on the ground. It wasn’t immediately clear if he was inside at the time of the attack. Despite tear gas being fired on the protestors to disperse, they entered his house and set the house on fire, authorities said.
Videos posted online showed protesters rejoicing after setting the house on fire. Sri Lanka has suffered through months of food and fuel shortages, lengthy blackouts and galloping inflation after running out of foreign currency to import vital goods. Thousands of people had poured into the capital for Saturday’s demonstration, the latest outbreak of unrest sparked by the crisis.
Police had withdrawn a curfew issued on Friday after opposition parties, rights activists and the bar association threatened to sue the police chief.
Thousands of anti-government protesters ignored the stay-home order and even forced railway authorities to operate trains to take them to Colombo for Saturday’s rally, officials said.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign on July 13

G. Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would resign on July 13, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said on Saturday night. President Rajapaksa informed the speaker about this decision after Abeywardena wrote to him asking for his resignation following the all-party leaders meeting held Saturday evening.
Abeywardena wrote to Rajapaksa on the decisions made at the meeting. The party leaders had demanded the resignation of Rajapaksa and PM Ranil to make way for Abeywardena to become acting president until parliament appointed a successor.
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