Thousands of protestors stormed the president’s house in the capital of Colombo today over public anger at the government’s handling of an economic crisis.
The planned rally, one of the largest anti-government marches in the crisis-hit country this year, turned violent as thousands of furious demonstrators surged past police barricades and into the presidential compound and nearby office of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Some protesters, holding Sri Lankan flags and helmets, broke into the president’s residence, video footage from local TV news NewsFirst channel showed, even going so far as to take a dip in the presidential swimming pool.
Two defence ministry sources said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was removed from the official premises on Friday for his safety ahead of the planned rally over the weekend, with government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake unsure of Rajapaksa’s whereabouts.
The island of 22 million people is struggling under 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.
Many blame the country’s decline on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as it muddles through with aid from India and other countries and its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.
The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base, while three other Rajapaksa relatives had quit their Cabinet posts earlier.
Much of the public ire has been pointed at the Rajapaksa family, with protesters blaming them for dragging Sri Lanka into chaos with poor management and allegations of corruption and nepotism.
Protestors stormed the President’s House in Colombo today in anger at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s handling of an ongoing economic crisis, occupying the colonial grounds and climbing onto the rooves
Hundreds of protestors entered the President’s House in Colombo, some waving Sri Lankan flags and wearing hard hats
Angry protestors gather inside the compound of Sri Lanka’s Presidential Palace in Colombo after they stormed past police barricades
People in Sri Lanka have struggled to buy essential items such as fuel, food and medicine, due to rampant inflation and a lack of foreign currency to pay for imports from abroad
They are furious at a government and a leader that has overseen mass shortages of essential items, rampant inflation and rolling electricity blackouts that blight their lives
A raging demonstrator speaks from inside the President’s House after storming the palace along with thousands of others
Protestors stormed the palace and paraded through the corridors chanting against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and even took a dip in his pool
The President’s House is the official residence and workplace of the President of Sri Lanka. Built in 1804, it was previously the residence of the British Governor and Governors-General and was known as the ‘King’s House’ or the ‘Queen’s House’ until Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been blamed for the economic crises pummelling the country under his leadership
A new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, took over in May to help steer the country out of the crisis. Meanwhile, Rajapaksa has held on to power despite largely peaceful protests since March demanding his resignation.
Thousands of people swarmed into Colombo’s government district, shouting slogans against the president and dismantling several police barricades to reach Rajapaksa’s house, a witness said.
There were even reports that angry protestors from out of town had forced railway staff to run trains to take them to Colombo.
Demonstrators have been camped outside the entrance to his office for the past three months.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters storming the residence, chanting ‘Gota go home,’ calling the president by his nickname. Dozens were seen jumping into the pool, milling about the house and and watching television. Outside the building, barricades were overturned and a black flag was hoisted on a pole.
At the president’s office, security personnel tried to stop demonstrators who pushed through fences to run across the lawns and inside the colonial-era building.
Police use water canons and fire tear gas to disperse the protesters angry at the president in Colombo, Sri Lanka today
Huge crowds of people attend an anti government protest rally, calling for the resignation of the president over the alleged failure to address the economic crisis
Protests have been rocking the country for over three months before demonstrators stormed the president’s palace today
Protestors react to a tear gas cannister, with one donning a gas mask and another readying a blanket to smother it with
Protesters cover their faces and try to disperse and flee as a tear gas shell fired by police lands next to them
Security forces fire tear gas to disperse a massed crowd in an anti government protest rally, as they call for the resignation of the president and prime minister
Why are Sri Lankans so furious with their president?
The fury that Sri Lankans feel towards President Gotabaya Rajapaksa runs deep. Rolling blackouts cut electricity to power fans and air-conditioners, essential items double in price each month, and petrol to fuel tuk-tuks and motorbikes is hard to come by.
Sri Lankans must now dedicate enormous quantities of their time to queueing. Queueing for food, queueing for gas, queueing for water. This is on top of their usual working weeks, to earn rupees that are worth less and less.
In poorer neighbourhoods, people have taken to banding together and cooking in the street – with the food they can afford and the food they can find. Malnourishment is now a problem in South Asia’s most developed country.
These problems, long-running and ongoing as they are, are put squarely at the door of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, who have run the country like their own personal business for over a decade.
Between Gotabaya and his brother, Mahinda, who was prime minister until he was forced out by violent riots in May, and the other brothers and family members they appointed to governmental posts, they have been accused of a myriad of corruption offences.
Ranging from dodgy deals with Chinese state companies to diverting tsunami relief funds and dipping into public coffers to make personal purchases of land, the alleged mismanagement has been egregious.
The present prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, revealed that Sri Lanka has less than $1 million in foreign reserves, dwindling medical supplies and almost no fuel.
Police fired shots in the air but were unable to stop the angry crowd from surrounding the presidential residence and pushing through fences to run across the lawns and inside the colonial-era building.
At least 34 people including two police officers were wounded in scuffles as protesters tried to enter the residence. Two of the injured are in critical condition while others sustained minor injuries, said an official at the Colombo National Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Thousands of protesters entered the capital from the suburbs earlier on Saturday after police lifted an overnight curfew. With fuel supplies scarce, many crowded onto buses and trains to come to the city to protest, while others made their way on bicycles and on foot.
Protest and religious leaders called on Rajapaksa to step down, saying he has lost the people’s mandate.
‘His claim that he was voted in by the Sinhala Buddhists is not valid now,’ said Ven. Omalpe Sobitha, a prominent Buddhist leader. He urged Parliament to convene immediately to select an interim president but said that Wickremesinghe did not enjoy the people’s support.
Protest leaders in their proclamation demanded the resignation of not only the president and the government but all government officials and the country’s ambassadors. They said that the protesters should have access to governance as a pressure group.
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has summoned an emergency meeting of political party leaders today in response.
Last month, Wickremesinghe said the country’s economy had collapsed. He said that the negotiations with the IMF have been complex because Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.
In April, Sri Lanka announced it is suspending repaying foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage. Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.
Police had imposed a curfew in Colombo and several other main urban areas on Friday night but withdrew it Saturday morning amid objections by lawyers and opposition politicians who called it illegal.
U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday asked people to protest peacefully and called for the military and police ‘to grant peaceful protesters the space and security to do so.’
Demonstrators run from tear gas used by police during a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
People at the anti government protest rally near the President’s house in Colombo call for the resignation of the president over the alleged failure to address the economic crisis
Protestors march in an anti-government demonstration outside the Galle International Cricket Stadium in the south of the island during the second day play of the second cricket Test match between Sri Lanka and Australia
A demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade towards police members as police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators
Police and security troops react to a tear gas cannister that has landed near them
‘Chaos & force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,’ Chung said in a tweet.
Despite a severe shortage of fuel that has stalled transportation services, demonstrators packed into buses, trains and trucks from several parts of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s failure to protect them from economic ruin.
Discontent has worsened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country stopped receiving fuel shipments, forcing school closures and rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services.
Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman took an overcrowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo 45 km (30 miles) north of Colombo, to join the protest.
‘We have told Gota over and over again to go home but he is still clinging onto power. We will not stop until he listens to us,’ Perera said.
He is among the millions squeezed by chronic fuel shortages and inflation that hit 54.6% in June.
Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund seeking a $3 billion bailout, a restructuring of some foreign debt and fund-raising from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the dollar drought.