Sri Lankan president flees as protesters storm his home and set fire to the prime minister’s

An economic crisis has sparked widespread anti-government protests in Sri Lanka.
An economic crisis has sparked widespread anti-government protests in Sri Lanka.
Image: Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters
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This post has been updated.

Sri Lanka plunged into a deep crisis today (July 9) triggered by an economic collapse.

It was a chaotic day as president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his official residence in the country’s capital, Colombo, hours before hundreds of thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace.

“The president has reportedly been moved to a safer location,” the BBC reported.

Indian TV news channel NDTV reported that Rajapaksa was moved to the army headquarters on Friday night itself “following intelligence reports that the situation at Saturday’s planned rally “would go out of control.”

He, however, hadn’t resigned as president till last reports came in.

By evening, prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s private residence was set ablaze by a section of the protesters.

This happened hours after Wickramasinghe said he will resign to make way for an all-party government that could handle the situation more effectively.

Wickramasinghe took charge less than two months before, inheriting the rubble of Sri Lankan economy from his predecessor Mahinda Rajapkasa.

On July 5, the prime minister had declared that the island nation was “bankrupt.” This seems to have intensified the months-long  protest that has swept Sri Lanka, culminating in today’s implosion.

Visuals of thousands of protesters entering the president’s home today flooded social media, with some showing them taking selfies inside the seaside facility while many frolicked in a swimming pool.

Protesters inside President’s house pic.twitter.com/lN7x58XL6Q

— NewsWire 🇱🇰 (@NewsWireLK) July 9, 2022

The protests, however, remained largely peaceful, playing musical instruments and singing songs. One parliamentarian, Rejitha Senaratne, was reportedly hectored by some angry persons in Colombo.

“Something big was expected today. But it has been peaceful. However, the big question now is, ‘what next?'” a Sri Lankan political observer, who did not want to be identified, told Quartz over a phone call.

Sri Lanka’s economy has collapsed

Reeling under a severe economic crisis over the past many months, Sri Lanka has witnessed large-scale unrest.

Today’s events are a culmination of the buildup. Protesters have been seeking the removal of president Rajapaksa, along with his brothers, former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa. While Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned his post in May, Basil Rajapaksa quit last month.

However, it was too late for the Sri Lankan economy by then.

First, in May, the country defaulted on its external debt. Inflation hit 54.6% in June. By last week, the nation had fuel stock to last only a day. Soon came Wickramasinghe’s “bankruptcy” announcement.

“…inflation rising to record levels, food prices skyrocketing and government coffers running dry. While the government blamed the pandemic for the debilitating economic situation, experts have said it was caused by political mismanagement and racking up debts with China,” CNBCTV18.com reported.

The government, meanwhile, has been negotiating a deal with the International Monetary Fund to save the economy. Neighbouring India had thrown in a lifeline with essential supplies and funds.

“Till now, India has provided around $3 billion worth of assistance to Sri Lanka, including a $400 million swap and credit lines totalling $1.5 billion,” CNBCTV18 reported.