Angry protesters took to the streets on Wednesday demanding the ouster of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the island nation descended into chaos in the midst of a crippling economic crisis.
Fresh protests erupted in the capital Colombo after news emerged that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had promised to resign on Wednesday, flew out of the country in the middle of the night, making his way to neighbouring Maldives with his wife and personal bodyguards.
With Gotabaya gone, outraged citizens turned their ire on Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has been named acting President. Hundreds of protesters surrounded the Prime Minister’s office, broke barricades and climbed fences in a bid to storm the building.
India Today TV, which was covering the unfolding mayhem, spoke to one protester at the scene. “Hamara chhina hua sab kuch hame wapis chahiye (We want everything that was taken away from us). Need our money back,” he said.
Even as police and military personnel resorted to baton charge and tear gas shelling to disperse the mob, many protesters refused to budge. Groups could be seen scaling the wall and entering the prime minister’s office compound as the crowds roared in support, cheering them on, waving Sri Lankan flags. More and more people could be seen joining the protesters.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa clan and their allies for the economic meltdown that has resulted in a deepening, months-long plight for the populace. Anger against Wickremesinghe is no less, as many believe he was appointed acting president by Gotabaya so he can rule by proxy.
“Parliament me baithne wala ekdum Ganda aadmi hai (the one sitting in Parliament is a bad man),” said one protester in Hindi, adding that it is a government conspiracy to let Gotabaya flee. Watch:
As the protests escalated outside the prime minister’s office, he imposed a state of emergency that gives broader powers to the military and police, and declared an immediate curfew in the western province that includes Colombo.
Meanwhile, protesters continue to occupy the three main buildings in the capital, the President’s House, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister’s official residence, Temple Trees, calling for their resignations.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last week said Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.
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