Sri Lankan protesters, angered by the economic crisis, storm the president’s house

  • Thousands of protesters storm the president’s home and office
  • Protesters demand the resignation of the president in the face of the crisis
  • Party leaders call a meeting
  • At least 39 people injured in unrest

COLOMBO, July 9 (Reuters) – Thousands of Sri Lankan protesters stormed the president’s official residence in Colombo on Saturday, demanding his resignation as public anger grows over the country’s worst economic crisis since seven decades.

Soldiers and police were unable to hold back the crowd of chanting protesters, who also forced their way through heavy metal doors into the Finance Ministry and President Gotabaya’s waterfront offices Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa left the official residence on Friday as a security measure ahead of the planned weekend protest, two Defense Ministry sources said. Reuters could not immediately confirm the president’s whereabouts.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe held talks with several political party leaders and they were due to call a meeting hosted by the Speaker of Parliament to decide what action to take after the unrest.

Wickremesinghe has also been moved to a safe place, a government source told Reuters.

A Facebook live stream from inside the president’s home showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in the national flag, crowding into bedrooms and hallways.

Video footage showed some of them wading in the pool while others sat on a four-poster bed and sofas. Some could be seen emptying out a chest of drawers in footage widely shared on social media.

Hundreds of people gathered inside the grounds of the whitewashed, colonial-era presidential residence, with no security official in sight.

At least 39 people, including two police officers, were injured and hospitalized during the protests, hospital sources told Reuters.

THE ECONOMIC COLLAPSE

The Indian Ocean island of 22 million people is grappling with a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Soaring inflation, which peaked at 54.6% in June and is expected to reach 70% in the coming months, has put the population under severe strain.

Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund as it seeks a $3 billion bailout, restructuring of some external debt and raising funds from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease dollar drought. Read more

The crisis comes after COVID-19 hammered the tourism-dependent economy and reduced remittances from foreign workers.

It has been made worse by the accumulation of a heavy public debt, the rise in oil prices and the ban on imports of chemical fertilizers last year which devastated agriculture. The fertilizer ban was reversed in November.

However, many attribute the country’s decline to Rajapaksa’s economic mismanagement and there have been months of largely peaceful protests demanding his resignation.

Before breaking into government buildings on Saturday, protesters dismantled several police barricades in Colombo’s government district.

Police fired shots into the air but were unable to stop the angry mob from surrounding the presidential residence, the witness said.

Despite a severe fuel shortage that has brought transport services to a standstill, protesters piled into buses, trains and trucks from several parts of the country to reach Colombo for the weekend demonstration.

Discontent has deepened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country has stopped receiving fuel deliveries, forcing school closures and the rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services. Read more

Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman, took a crowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo, 45 km (30 miles) north of Colombo, to join the protest.

“We have repeatedly told Gota (Rajapaksa) to go home, but he still clings to power. We won’t stop until he listens to us,” Perera said.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe, Devjyot Ghoshal Editing by William Mallard, Shri Navaratnam and Helen Popper

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

#Sri #Lankan #protesters #angered #economic #crisis #storm #presidents #house

Add Comment