Sri Lankan protesters storm president’s house after clashes with police: The Tribune India


Reuters

Colombo, July 9

Thousands of protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, broke through police barricades and stormed the president’s official residence on Saturday in one of the biggest anti-government marches in the troubled country this year.

Some protesters, holding Sri Lankan flags and helmets, stormed into the president’s residence, video footage from local television station NewsFirst showed.

Two Defense Ministry sources said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was evicted from official premises on Friday for his safety ahead of the rally scheduled for the weekend.

A Facebook live stream from inside the president’s home showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in flags, thronging rooms and hallways, shouting slogans against Rajapaksa.

Hundreds of people also strolled the grounds outside the colonial-era whitewashed building. No security guard was visible.

At least 21 people, including two police officers, have been injured and hospitalized during the ongoing protests, hospital sources told Reuters.

The island of 22 million people is struggling with a severe shortage of foreign exchange which has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Many blame the country’s decline on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Largely peaceful protests since March have demanded his resignation.

Thousands of people swarmed Colombo’s government district, shouting slogans against the president and dismantling several police barricades to reach Rajapaksa’s house, a Reuters witness said.

Police fired shots into the air but were unable to stop the angry mob from surrounding the presidential residence, the witness said.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the president’s whereabouts.

Despite a severe fuel shortage that has crippled transport services, demonstrators piled into buses, trains and trucks from several parts of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s failure to protect them from the economic ruin.

Discontent has deepened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country has stopped receiving fuel deliveries, forcing school closures and the rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services.

Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman, took a crowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo, 45 km north of Colombo, to join the protest.

“We told Gota many times to go home, but he still clings to power. We won’t stop until he listens to us,” Perera said.

He is one of millions squeezed by chronic fuel shortages and inflation that hit 54.6% in June.

Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund aimed at securing a $3 billion bailout, restructuring of some external debt and fundraising from multilateral and bilateral sources to mitigate dollar drought.

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