< p class="sc-v64krj-0 knjbxw">Protesters demanding the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reached the compound of his residence in Colombo.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his Colombo palace on Saturday minutes before it was stormed by hundreds of protesters accusing him of being responsible for the catastrophic economic crisis that the country is going through and wanting to oust him from power.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is next in line if Mr Rajapaksa steps down, immediately called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss a quick resolution to the crisis.
In a statement, he invited the leaders of the political parties to join this meeting, and also asked that the Parliament be convened.
The president was escorted to safety, a defense source told AFP. He is still the president, he is protected by a military unit, this source added, according to which the soldiers guarding the official residence fired in the air to dissuade the demonstrators from approaching until that Mr. Rajapaksa be evacuated.
Local TV stations showed footage of hundreds of people scaling the gates of the presidential palace, a colonial-era building, located by the sea and a symbol of power in Sri Lanka.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a COP26 conference in Glasgow. (Archives)
Some protesters live-streamed videos on social media showing a crowd marching inside the palace, some even taking a dip in the presidential pool or lying down amusedly in the bedrooms of the residence.
The protesters also took over the offices of the presidency, located nearby and in front of which demonstrators have been camping for three months.
Government officials said they were unaware of Mr. leak. We are awaiting instructions, a senior official told AFP.
“We still don't know his whereabouts, but we do know he is with the Sri Lankan Navy and that he is with us.” he is safe.
Private TV channels showed a convoy of official-looking vehicles at Colombo International Airport, but no confirmation of Mr Rajapaksa's possible departure from the country. x27; has been provided.
Tens of thousands of people had earlier taken part in demonstrations to demand the resignation of Mr. Rajapaksa, blamed for the unprecedented crisis which hits Sri Lanka and causes galloping inflation as well as serious shortages of fuel, oil and gas. electricity and food.
The United Nations estimates that around 80% of the population is skipping meals to cope with shortages and soaring prices.
The security forces tried to disperse the huge crowd gathered in the administrative district of the capital. The main hospital in Colombo reported three people injured by gunshots and 36 others suffering from breathing difficulties due to the massive use of tear gas.
In Colombo, police attempt to disperse Sri Lankan protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
On Friday, law enforcement imposed a curfew to try to discourage protesters from taking to the streets. But the measure was lifted after threats of legal action against the police chief were made by opposition parties, human rights activists and the country's bar.
The curfew had been largely ignored by protesters anyway, some of whom even forced rail authorities on Saturday to take them by train to Colombo to take part in the rally, officials told AFP .
The curfew did not have a deterrent effect. He actually encouraged more people to take to the streets in defiance, the defense official said. Passengers requisitioned trains to reach Colombo.
Even as the country has nearly used up its meager petrol reserves, protesters, backed by the main opposition parties, have also hired private buses to travel to the capital.
According to the authorities, some 20,000 soldiers and police had been dispatched to Colombo to protect the president.
The UN had urged the Sri Lankan authorities and protesters to ensure Saturday's rallies are peaceful.
As of May, nine people were killed and several hundred injured in unrest across the country.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April, and entered bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.
This crisis, on an unprecedented scale since the country's independence in 1948, is blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic which deprived this island of 22 mi millions of people from the tourism sector and has been made worse by a series of bad political decisions, according to economists.