The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka said he would resign on Saturday and the nation’s president was called on to do the same after anti-government demonstrators—following months of growing protest and anger over a boiling economic crisis—overran the presidential palace and other buildings of top officials.
“Today we have fought for our freedom from the tyranny and the scoundrels and greedy politicians who have run our nation to ground zero.”
According to the Associated Press:
Protesters on Saturday broke into the Sri Lankan prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire hours after he said he would resign when a new government is formed, in the biggest day of angry demonstrations that also saw crowds storming the president’s home and office.
The office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the protesters forced their way into his Colombo home in the evening. It wasn’t immediately clear if he was inside at the time.
Wickremesinghe announced earlier that he would resign in response to calls by political leaders for him and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to quit, after tens of thousands of people trooped to the capital to vent their fury over the nation’s economic and political crisis.
On the ground in the capital city of Colombo, Al Jazeera correspondent Minelle Fernandez said the demonstrators were adamant the president must go.
“Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans are still streaming into Colombo,” Fernandez reported. “People stormed railway stations and literally forced employees to put them on trains and bring them to Colombo. They say they are taking their country back.”
As the New York Times notes in its reporting on the crisis, “Sri Lanka has run out of foreign-exchange reserves for imports of essential items like fuel and medicine, and the United Nations has warned that more than a quarter of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people are at risk of food shortages.” The demonstrations have been growing for months, but even a series of government resignations have not stemmed the populist anger that culminated on Saturday.
“I came here today to send the president home,” Wasantha Kiruwaththuduwa, who had walked 10 miles to join the protest, told the Times. “Now the president must resign. If he wants peace to prevail, he must step down.”
Months of protests have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
One of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned as prime minister last month, and two other brothers and a nephew quit their cabinet posts earlier.
Wickremesinghe took over as prime minister in May and protests temporarily waned in the hope he could find cash for the country’s urgent needs.
But people now want him to resign as well, saying he has failed to fulfil his promises. One demonstrator held the Sri Lankan flag in one hand and a placard in the other that read: “Pissu Gota, Pissu Ranil” (Insane Gota, Insane Ranil) in Sinhalese.
Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, a researcher at Amnesty International told Al Jazeera Sri Lanka will “not come out of this crisis for some time.”
Footage being shared on social media showed demonstrators, having taken over the presidential palace, swimming in the pool and cheering from the rooftops:
Reporting indicated security personnel was no longer present in the palace, nor in the president’s nearby offices which had also been overrun by protesters.
“Today is independence day for me being born in this nation, not 1948, because today we have fought for our freedom from the tyranny and the scoundrels and greedy politicians who have run our nation to ground zero,” one protester told Al Jazeera.