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Rafiq Maqbool/AP Sri Lankan protesters storm the compound of prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office.
# crisis
Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after president flees to Maldives
A state of emergency has been declared and protesters stormed the prime minister’s office.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 13th 2022, 3:01 PM

SRI LANKA’S PRESIDENT fled the country without stepping down today, plunging a country already reeling from economic chaos into more political turmoil.

Protesters demanding a change in leadership then trained their ire on the prime minister and stormed his office.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife left aboard an air force plane bound for the Maldives — and he made his prime minister the acting president in his absence.

That appeared to only further roil passions in the island nation, which has been gripped for months by an economic disaster that has triggered severe shortages of food and fuel — and now is beset by political chaos.

Thousands of protesters — who had anticipated that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would be appointed acting president — rallied outside his office compound and some scaled the walls, as the crowd roared its support and tossed water bottles to those charging in.

Dozens could later be seen inside the office and standing on a rooftop terrace waving Sri Lanka’s flag — the latest in a series of government buildings demonstrators have occupied in their quest for new leaders.

“We need both … to go home,” said Supun Eranga, a 28-year-old civil servant in the crowd. “Ranil couldn’t deliver what he promised during his two months, so he should quit. All Ranil did was try to protect the Rajapaksas.”

But Wickremesinghe, who declared a state of emergency, appeared on television to reiterate that he would not leave until a new government was in place — and it was not clear when that would happen.

Although he fled, Rajapaksa has yet to resign, but the speaker of the parliament said the president assured him he would later in the day.

Police initially used tear gas to try to disperse the protesters outside the prime minister’s office but failed, and more and more marched down the lane toward the compound.

embedded267863138 Rafiq Maqbool / AP The president of Sri Lanka fled the country, days after protesters stormed his home and office and the official residence of his prime minister. Rafiq Maqbool / AP / AP

Eventually security forces appeared to give up, with some retreating from the area and others simply standing around the overrun compound. Inside the building, the mood was celebratory, as people lounged on sofas and held mock meetings in board rooms.

Protesters have already seized the president’s home and office and the official residence of the prime minister following months of demonstrations that have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa family’s political dynasty, which ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

At one point, they also burned Wickremesinghe’s private home.

This morning, Sri Lankans continued to stream into the presidential palace. For days, people have flocked to the palace almost as if it were a tourist attraction — swimming in the pool, marvelling at the paintings and lounging on the beds piled high with pillows.

At dawn, the protesters took a break from chanting as the Sri Lankan national anthem blared from speakers. A few waved the flag.

Protesters accuse the president and his relatives of siphoning money from government coffers for years and Rajapaksa’s administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy.

The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the meltdown, which has left the island nation laden with debt and unable to pay for imports of basic necessities.

As the protests escalated outside the prime minister’s compound today, his office 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.

The air force said in a statement that it provided an aircraft, with the defence ministry approval, for the president and his wife to travel to the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean known for exclusive tourist resorts.

It said all immigration and customs laws were followed.

Press Association
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