August 13, 2022

Protesters enraged by the economic downturn in Sri Lanka besieged the Presidential Palace

  • Thousands of protesters besieged the presidential palace and office
  • Angered by the economic crisis, the protesters demanded the president’s resignation
  • Prime Minister calls for emergency meeting of party leaders
  • At least 39 people were injured in the protest

COLOMBO, July 9 (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters besieged the president’s official residence and his secretariat in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo on Saturday, amid months of mounting public anger over the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.

Some protesters, carrying Sri Lankan flags and headscarves, entered the president’s residence, video footage from local television news channel NewsFirst showed.

Television footage showed thousands breaking down the doors of the Presidential Secretariat and the Finance Ministry on the waterfront, which has been the site of months of sit-ins.

Sign up now for unlimited free access to Reuters.com

The army and police in both places were unable to control the crowd as they raised slogans calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Two Defense Ministry sources said President Rajapaksa was removed from the official residence on Friday for his safety ahead of a planned weekend rally.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called an emergency meeting of party leaders on Saturday to discuss the situation and reach a quick solution, according to a statement from his office.

He has requested the Speaker to convene the Parliament.

A government source told Reuters that Wickremesinghe had also been shifted to a safe place.

A Facebook live stream from inside the president’s residence showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in flags, huddled in rooms and corridors, chanting anti-Rajapakse slogans.

Video footage of protesters standing in the swimming pool inside the President’s residence and some taking a bath went viral on social media.

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

Hospital sources told Reuters that at least 39 people, including two policemen, were injured in the protests and hospitalized.

Economic collapse

The island of 22 million people is struggling under a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, and is mired in its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Rising inflation, which hit a record 54.6% in June and is expected to reach 70% in the coming months, has heaped hardship on the population.

Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund seeking a $3 billion bailout, restructuring some foreign debt and raising funds from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the dollar drought. read more

The crisis comes after COVID-19 hit the tourism-based economy and reduced remittances from foreign workers, and was compounded by the huge government debt that wreaked havoc last year, soaring oil prices and a ban on chemical fertilizer imports. Agriculture. The fertilizer ban was withdrawn in November last year.

However, many blame the country’s downfall on President Rajapaksa’s economic mismanagement. Massive peaceful protests have called for his resignation since March.

Thousands of people gathered inside Colombo’s government district, chanting slogans against the president and clearing several police barricades to reach Rajapaksa’s home, a Reuters witness said.

Police fired into the air but could not stop the angry crowd from surrounding the presidential residence, the witness said.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the president’s whereabouts.

Demonstrators arrived in Colombo in buses, trains and trucks from various parts of the country to protest the government’s failure to protect them from economic ruin despite severe fuel shortages that have brought transport services to a standstill.

Discontent has worsened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country halted fuel exports, forced school closures and rationed petrol and diesel for essential services. read more

Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman, joined the protest on an overcrowded bus from the coastal town of Negombo, 45 km (30 miles) north of Colombo.

“We have repeatedly told Kota to go home, but he is still clinging to power. We will not stop until he listens to us,” Perera said.

Sign up now for unlimited free access to Reuters.com

Reported by Uditha Jayasinghe, Devajyot Ghosh; Editing by Rupam Jain, William Mallard & Sri Navaratnam

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.