Sri Lankan prime minister agrees to step down after protesters storm president’s residence amid economic crisis
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Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed to step down after thousands of protesters in the commercial capital of Colombo broke through police barricades and stormed the president’s residence and office on Saturday as part of of an anti-government demonstration sparked by the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters also targeted the prime minister’s private residence in the South Asian nation, setting it on fire, according to reports.
Earlier, protesters carried Sri Lankan flags and helmets as they broke into President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, sat on beds and swam in a swimming pool. Rajapaksa would be safe and did not resign.
« The president has been escorted to safety, » a senior defense source told AFP. « He is still president, he is protected by a military unit. »
The country, made up of around 22 million people, suffers from a severe shortage of foreign exchange, which has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. This shortage has plunged the island into its worst financial situation for 70 years.
« To ensure the continuation of government, including the safety of all citizens, I accept the best recommendation from party leaders today, to make way for multiparty government, » Wickremesinghe tweeted. « To facilitate this, I will resign as Prime Minister. »
Rajapaksa has been blamed by many for the country’s economic decline. Demonstrations have taken place since March in which demonstrators demanded the president’s resignation. Saturday’s protest is believed to be one of the biggest anti-government marches this year.
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Sri Lankan media video showed protesters storming into the president’s residence.
According to a witness, thousands of protesters forced their way into Colombo’s government district, breaking through several police barricades before reaching Rajapaksa’s residence.
Police fired shots in the air but failed to stop protesters from surrounding the president’s house, the witness said.
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A severe fuel shortage on the Asian island has brought transport services to a standstill, but protesters have still boarded buses, trains and trucks from different parts of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s economic failures.
In recent weeks, the impoverished country has stopped receiving fuel deliveries, forcing schools to close and limiting petrol and diesel for services deemed essential.
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The country has been hit by massive fuel shortages and high levels of inflation. Inflation in Sri Lanka reached 54.6% in June.
Political instability could hurt Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund, from which they are asking for a $3 billion bailout, restructuring of some external debt and fundraising from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the burden of the worsening dollar shortage.
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Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.