Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to resign after thousands of protesters in the commercial capital of Colombo barged through police barricades and stormed the president’s residence and office on Saturday as part of an anti-government demonstration brought on by the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters also targeted the prime minister’s private residence in the South Asian nation, setting it on fire, according to reports.
Earlier, protesters carried Sri Lankan flags and helmets as they broke in to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, sitting on beds and swimming in a pool. Rajapaksa is reportedly safe and has not stepped down.
‘The president was escorted to safety,’ a senior defense source told AFP. ‘He is still the president, he is being protected by a military unit.’
The country, consisting of about 22 million, is suffering from a severe foreign exchange shortage, which has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. This shortage has pushed the island into its worst financial situation in 70 years.
‘To ensure the continuation of the Government including the safety of all citizens I accept the best recommendation of the Party Leaders today, to make way for an All-Party Government,’ Wickremesinghe tweeted. ‘To facilitate this I will resign as Prime Minister.’
Rajapaksa has been blamed by many for the country’s economic decline. Protests have taken place since March in which demonstrators have demanded the president’s resignation. Saturday’s protest is believed to be one of the biggest anti-government marches this year.
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Video from Sri Lankan media outlets showed protesters storming into the president’s residence.
According to a witness, thousands of demonstrators forced their way into Colombo’s government district, breaking multiple police barricades before reaching Rajapaksa’s residence.
Police fired shots in the air but failed to halt the protestors from surrounding the president’s house, the witness said.
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A severe shortage of fuel on the Asian island has stalled transportation services, but demonstrators still rode on buses, trains and trucks from different areas of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s economic failures.
The impoverished country in recent weeks has stopped receiving fuel shipments, which has forced school closures and limited petrol and diesel for services deemed essential.
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The country has been hit with massive fuel shortages and high inflation levels. Sri Lanka’s inflation hit 54.6% in June.
Political instability could hurt Sri Lanka’s discussions with the International Monetary Fund, from which they seek a $3 billion bailout, a restructuring of some foreign debt and fund-raising from multilateral and bilateral sources to soften the burden of the worsened dollar scarcity.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.