Sri Lankan anti-govt protesters storm President Rajapaksa's residence

Sri Lankan anti-govt protesters storm President Rajapaksa’s residence

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Thousands of protesters in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo broke through police barricades and stormed the president’s official residence on Saturday following months of mounting public anger over the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.

Some protesters, holding Sri Lankan flags and helmets, broke into the president’s residence, video footage from local TV news NewsFirst channel showed.

Defence ministry sources said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was moved away from the official premises for his safety ahead of the planned protests.

A Facebook livestream from inside the president’s house showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in flags, packing into rooms and corridors, shouting slogan’s against Rajapaksa .

Hundreds also milled about on the grounds outside the colonial-era white-washed building. No security officials were visible.

At least 21 people, including two police were injured and hospitalised in the ongoing protests, hospital sources told Reuters.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned an emergency meeting of party leaders to discuss the situation and come to a swift resolution, his office said in a statement.

He has also requested the speaker to summon parliament, the statement said.

Wickremesinghe has also been moved to a secure location, a government source told Reuters.

‘Gota go home’

Demonstrators packed in buses, trains and trucks from across the South Asian nation entered Colombo earlier on Saturday to express outrage over the government’s failure to protect them from economic ruin.

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 financial turmoil in seven decades.

>> Read more: As global food crisis looms, Sri Lanka offers a cautionary tale

Many blame the country’s decline on President Rajapaksa. Largely peaceful protests since March have demanded his resignation.

Protesters on Saturday carried black and national flags and shouted “Gota go home,” using a common shortened version of the president’s name.

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 percent 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.


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