Thousands of protesters in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo broke through police barricades and stormed the President’s official residence on Saturday in one of the largest anti-government marches in the crisis-hit country this year.
Later, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house was set on fire by the protesters. Before protesters went on a rampage in his residence, PM Wickremesinghe had attended an all-party meeting where he offered to resign to make way for a unity government.
Video footage of Sri Lankan protesters taking over President's office in Colombo
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Unstoppable crowds were seen swimming in the pool and cooking in the kitchen after they barged into Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence amid worsening public anger over an unprecedented economic crisis.
Two defence ministry sources said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was removed from the official premises on Friday for his safety ahead of the planned rally over the weekend.
A Facebook livestream from inside the President’s house showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in flags, packing into rooms and corridors, shouting slogans against Rajapaksa.
Heavily armed troops and police were deployed in Sri Lanka’s capital on Friday ahead of the planned protests.
The authorities tried to stop them by announcing a curfew on Friday night but it was lifted after opposition parties and civil society groups strongly objected. The bar association threatened to sue the police chief.
Demonstrators began gathering near the official residence of the president on Saturday, having ignored the order to stay at home. Some had even forced railway staff to run trains to take them to Colombo, AFP news agency reported.
Police fired tear gas to try to disperse the vast crowds and fired shots in the air. But so many people had turned up for the demonstration and the authorities could not hold them back.
Footage on social media soon showed people roaming through the president’s house, lounging in its stately rooms and jumping and splashing in his pool.
There were no immediate reports of injuries. Over the past few months a number of Sri Lankans have been killed in the demonstrations, and hundreds hurt.