Sri Lankans storm Rashtrapati Bhavan, office in biggest rally

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan protesters stormed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and nearby office on Saturday, as tens of thousands took to the streets of the capital Colombo to vent their anger against a leader in the largest demonstration ever. Which they blame for the island country’s worst economic crisis. ,

It was not clear whether Rajapaksa was inside his residence, but footage showed hundreds of people inside and outside the well-fortified house, some taking a dip in a garden pool and others in joy. was in the mood.

Mohana Samarnayake, a government spokesman, said he had no idea about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts.

Sri Lanka’s economy is on the verge of collapse, aided by India and other countries collapsing as its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. The economic slowdown has led to severe shortages of essential commodities, due to which people are struggling to buy food, fuel and other necessities.

The turmoil has sparked months of protests, which have nearly decimated the political dynasty of Rajapaksa, who has ruled Sri Lanka for the past two decades.

Sri Lanka
A man throws tear gas shells after police fired at them to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lankan protesters entered his official residence on Saturday demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. A local television report said.

Amita Thenakoon / AP

The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests led him to seek security at a naval base, while three other Rajapaksa relatives had previously given up their cabinet posts. Much of the public’s anger has been pointed at the Rajapaksa family, with protesters accusing them of dragging Sri Lanka into chaos with allegations of poor management and corruption.

A new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, took office in May to help lift the country out of the crisis. Meanwhile, Rajapaksa held on to power despite growing demands to step down from his post.

On Saturday, as crowds broke barriers to occupy the president’s residence, hundreds of protesters, some carrying national flags, stormed his seaside office in another nearby building. For the past three months, the protesters have been camping outside the entrance of his office.

Videos posted on social media showed protesters storming the residence, shouting “go home” while calling out the president’s surname. Dozens of people were seen jumping into the pool, walking around the house and watching TV. Barricades were overturned outside the building and a black flag was hoisted on a pole.

In the presidential office, security personnel tried to stop protesters who pushed through fences to run across the lawn and inside the colonial-era building.

At least 34 people, including two police officers, were injured in the scuffle as they tried to enter the residence of the protesters. An official of the Colombo National Hospital said on condition of anonymity that two of the injured were in critical condition, while the others had minor injuries as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Thousands of protesters entered the capital from the suburbs on Saturday after police lifted the overnight curfew. With fuel supplies short, many people crowded buses and trains to protest, while others made their way on bicycles and on foot.

Protests and religious leaders called on Rajapaksa to step down, saying he had lost the mandate.

“His claim that he was voted for by Sinhala Buddhists is no longer valid,” Wen said. Omalpe Sobitha, a prominent Buddhist leader. He urged for an immediate convening of parliament to elect an interim president but said Wickremesinghe did not get the support of the people.

The protesting leaders in their proclamation demanded the resignation of not only the President and the government but also all government officials and ambassadors of the country. He said the protesters should have access to the regime as a pressure group.

Last month, Wickremesinghe said that the country’s economy has collapsed. He said negotiations with the IMF have been complicated as Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.

In April, Sri Lanka announced that it was suspending repayment of foreign debt due to a lack of foreign currency. Its total external debt is $51 billion, of which it will have to pay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Police imposed a curfew in Colombo and several other main urban areas on Friday night, but lifted it on Saturday morning amid objections from lawyers and opposition leaders, who called it illegal.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday called on people to hold peaceful protests and called on the military and police to “provide space and security for peaceful protesters to do so”.

“Anarchy and force will not fix the economy or bring about the political stability that Sri Lanka needs right now,” Chung said in a tweet.

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