Sri Lankan Leaders Resign After Protesters Attack Their Homes

President, prime minister agree to leave during largest demonstrations yet over economic crisis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 9, 2022 5:30 AM CDT
Updated Jul 9, 2022 4:40 PM CDT
Hundreds Storm Home of Sri Lankan President
Protesters try to remove a tear gas shell after it was fired by police to disperse them in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Saturday. Sri Lankan protesters demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign forced their way into his official residence on Saturday, a local television report said.   (AP Photo/Amitha Thennakoon)

Update: This story has been updated throughout with the leaders' resignations.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced he's resigning after unrest Saturday that included Sri Lankan protesters storming his residence and setting the prime minister's house on fire. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also agreed to quit, the BBC reports. Rajapaksa will leave office Wednesday "to ensure a peaceful handover of power," the speaker of Parliament announced. "I therefore request the public to respect the law and maintain peace," Mahinda Abeywardana said. A protester outside the president's house said the two had to be removed "to have a new era for Sri Lanka."

"I feel very, very sad that they didn't go earlier because had they gone earlier there wouldn't have been any destruction," Fiona Sirmana told Reuters. Tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets of the capital Colombo in the biggest demonstration yet to vent their fury against a leader they hold responsible for the island nation's worst economic crisis. Rajapaksa wasn't home, but footage showed hundreds of people inside the well-fortified house and on the grounds, some taking a dip in the garden pool and others in a jubilant mood, per the AP. Sri Lanka's economy is in a state of collapse, muddling through with aid from India and other countries as its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

The economic meltdown has led to severe shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to buy food, fuel, and other necessities. The turmoil has led to months of protests, which have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. The president's older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base, while three other Rajapaksa relatives had quit their Cabinet posts earlier. Much of the public ire has been pointed at the Rajapaksa family, with protesters blaming them for dragging Sri Lanka into chaos with poor management and allegations of corruption. Wickremesinghe took over as prime minister in May to help steer the country out of the crisis. An opposition lawmaker said Saturday that an agreement has been reached for the speaker to become temporary president and set up an interim government, per the BBC.

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On Saturday, as droves of people broke through barriers to occupy the president's residence, hundreds of protesters, some carrying national flags, also stormed his seaside office in another nearby building. Demonstrators have camped outside the entrance to his office for the past three months. Videos posted on social media showed protesters storming the residence, chanting "Gota, go home!," calling the president by his nickname. At least 34 people, including two police officers, were wounded in scuffles as protesters tried to enter the residence. Two of the injured are in critical condition, while others sustained minor injuries, said an official at Colombo's National Hospital. Thousands of protesters entered the capital from the suburbs earlier on Saturday after police lifted an overnight curfew.

(More Sri Lanka stories.)

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