Guwahati: Sri Lanka’s beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his official residence in the capital on Saturday, a defence source said.
Television footage showed protesters demanding the leader’s resignation storming the compound. 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.
Thousands of protesters broke through police barricades in Colombo and stormed the president’s official residence today, the latest expression of public anger in the nation of 22 million people battling an unprecedented economic crisis.
Several gunshots were heard being fired in the air and police unsuccessfully used tear gas to ward off protestors who surrounded the presidential residence.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was moved to the Army headquarters last night following intelligence reports that the situation “would go out of control”, a top government source told NDTV.
Holding Sri Lankan flags and helmets, thousands of protesters surrounded president’s official residence this morning after police withdrew a curfew order following legal challenge from opposition parties, rights activists and the bar association.
The police fired shots in the air but were unable to stop the angry crowd from surrounding the presidential residence, a witness was quoted as saying by news agency AFP.
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.
“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,” said Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman who took an overcrowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo 45 km (30 miles) north of Colombo, to join the protest.
The protesters even forced railway authorities to operate trains to take them to Colombo for Saturday’s rally, officials said.
“In my entire life I have never seen the country United like this with one goal to throw out a failed Leader. The writing is now on YOUR official house WALL. Please go in peace,” ex-cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya tweeted with #GoHomeGota.
The island nation 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.
Many blame the country’s decline on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Largely peaceful protests since March have demanded his resignation.
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.
(Inputs from agencies)