‘Unbelievable scenes’: Protesters storm Sri Lanka’s presidential palace amid economic turmoil

Months of turmoil amid a worsening economic crisis boiled over late Saturday afternoon in Colombo, Sri Lanka when thousands of protesters stormed the president’s home and took over the complex.

Not since 1948 when Sri Lanka declared its independence from Britain has the island nation faced so devastating an economic crisis. A scarcity of food, fuel and supplies has driven inflation to a record 54.6 percent in June with expectations of it climbing as high as 70 percent, according to the New York Post.

As a result, months of ongoing protests demanding action from the government led to the storming of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence Saturday by thousands after reports that the leader had fled late Friday out of concern for his safety.

The protests followed the lifting of a curfew by police Saturday after objections from opposition politicians and lawyers, according to the Associated Press. The pressures further prompted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to agree to resign from his position that he has only held since May.

“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF,” the prime minister said, speaking of talks to attempt and garner a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. “Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government.”

Wickremesinghe was appointed after Rajapaksa’s brother had stepped down from the position. He was meant to arrive at a solution to help resuscitate the collapsed tourism-focused economy that had suffered from the COVID lockdowns and worsened with supply chain issues stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Protests had spread to Wickremesinghe’s home as well with at least six staff members of Sirasa Television, including four reporters, hospitalized after being beaten by police as they were reporting near the PM’s home. Meanwhile, protesters within the presidential residence enjoyed the luxury that their leader was privy to while they suffered.

At least 34, including two police officers, were wounded when protesters made their way into Rajapaksa’s home. Two were in critical condition according to an official from the Colombo National Hospital and a representative from the Sri Lanka Medical Council cautioned against the unrest as, with already strained resources, they would not be able to treat large volumes of people who may become injured.

Opposition leader and member of parliament Rauff Hakeem had tweeted in advance of the protests stating in part, “Tomorrow will be yet another day for the History books. The voice of the people needs to overpower this unscrupulous government and its goons.”

In advance of that post, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung had tweeted “Violence is not an answer. If you are going to protest, please do so peacefully. And reminding military & police to grant peaceful protesters the space and security to do so. Chaos & force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now.”

However, Hakeem had since tempered his previous remarks with a condemnation of violence.

Leaders have sought the resignation of the president and prime minister and have proposed the speaker act as president for no more than 30 days while parliament works to elect new officials to serve out the term for Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe. According to the AP, the Rajapaksa family has maintained a political dynasty in Sri Lanka for two decades.

In addition to immense shortages, the nation of 22 million holds a total foreign debt amounting to $51 billion with $28 billion due to be repaid no later than the end of 2027.


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