Sri Lanka Imposes Curfew, Protesters Storm PM’s Office After President Flees
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Protesters in Sri Lanka defied tear gas, water cannon and a state of emergency to storm the prime minister’s office on Wednesday after the country’s embattled president fled overseas, with the crowd demanding both men step down in the face of an economic crisis.
In a televised statement Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he had instructed the military and police to do “what is necessary to restore order”.
But armed security personnel stood by in the grounds of his office as protesters, some holding national flags, milled and took pictures.
Other demonstrators at one point broke into state television studios, as the country’s months-long political and economic crisis appeared to be moving towards a climax.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 73, promised at the weekend to resign on Wednesday after escaping his own official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it.
He flew to the neighbouring Maldives early Wednesday: as president, he enjoys immunity from arrest, and he is believed to have wanted to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
But midnight passed with no announcement he had stepped down.
In his absence he named as acting president Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose own office was soon afterwards mobbed by thousands of demonstrators demanding both officeholders should go.
“Go home Ranil, Go home Gota,” they shouted.
Local media said a 26-year-old protester who was hospitalised after being tear-gassed died of breathing difficulties.
“Some of the protesters who had gathered outside the parliament building have now dispersed,” police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa told Reuters. “The area is now calm.”
He said he had no information on how many were hospitalised.
Sri Lanka has issued a state of emergency and put a curfew in place until Thursday morning at 5am, according to an official notification issued on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka’s acting president and prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has asked the speaker of parliament to nominate a new prime minister, his media team said on Wednesday after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country.
“Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has informed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to nominate a prime minister who is acceptable to both the government and opposition,” the team said in a statement.
Protesters, angered by a severe economic crisis, have demanded that both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe resign.