Sri Lanka’s president to quit after chased from home

Protesters break down barricades near Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence in Colombo as he flees

Sri Lankan protesters refused to budge from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence on Sunday after storming his home, forcing him to flee with the navy and to announce his resignation.

The dramatic events on Saturday were the culmination of months of protests by people enraged by the South Asian island nation’s unprecedented economic crisis and the Rajapaksa clan’s incompetence and corruption.

After storming the gates of the colonial-era presidential palace, protesters lounged in its opulent rooms, somersaulting into the compound’s pool and going through Rajapaksa’s clothes.

From there the 73-year-old, who had clung to power even after deadly nationwide violence in May forced his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa to quit as prime minister, decided finally to throw in the towel.

Rajapaksa’s nearby seafront office also fell into protesters’ hands while others set fire to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residence even after he too offered to resign. The premier was not there at the time.

– Gunshot wounds –

The main Colombo National Hospital said 105 people were brought in Saturday and that 55 remained under treatment by Sunday. The injured included seven journalists.

After midnight Sri Lanka’s top military officer, General Shavendra Silva, issued an appeal for calm.

A defence source said Rajapaksa would reach the Trincomalee naval base in the northeast of the island later on Sunday.

The United States calls on “the Sri Lankan parliament to approach this juncture with a commitment to the betterment of the nation — not any one political party,” a State Department spokesperson said Sunday as Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Thailand.

Protesters still occupying the presidential palace said Sunday they would not depart until Rajapaksa actually leaves office. 

“When we moved to the last barrier, we knew that the military might open fire. We risked our lives,” he said.

Student activists say they found 17.8 million rupees ($49,000) in cash in Rajapaksa’s room and handed it over to police.

The government has defaulted on its $51 billion external debt and is seeking an International Monetary Fund bailout.

Sri Lanka has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol, and people unable to travel to the capital held protests in other cities across the island on Saturday. 

The camp was the scene of clashes in May when a gang of Rajapaksa loyalists attacked peaceful protesters. 

– Cricket goes on –

On Saturday hundreds of protesters climbed the walls of the scenic Galle Fort overlooking where Sri Lanka and Australia were playing and chanted anti-Rajapaksa slogans.

Cricket officials said there were no plans to change the Australia and Pakistan schedules and that the sport was unaffected by the political turmoil.


Originally published as Sri Lanka’s president to quit after chased from home

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