Thousands of protesters stormed the Sri Lankan president’s official residence and set the prime minister’s private residence on fire in Colombo on Saturday as anger intensified over the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is willing to resign to make way for an all-party government, his office said in a statement on Saturday evening, although it was not immediately clear if this or measures proposed by the parliamentary speaker would resolve the crisis.
Soldiers and police were unable to hold back a crowd of chanting protesters demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, in a sharp escalation of months of anti-government protests over the dire economic situation.
Inside the president’s house, a Facebook livestream showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in the national flag, packing into rooms and corridors. Video footage showed some of them splashing in the swimming pool, while others sat on a four-poster bed and sofas.
Some could be seen emptying out a chest of drawers in images that were widely circulated on social media. Hundreds milled about in the grounds of the colonial-era whitewashed residence, with few security personnel in sight.
The prime minister had also been moved to a secure location, a government source told Reuters. At least 39 people, including two police officers, were injured and hospitalised during the protests, hospital sources told Reuters.
Wickremesinghe held talks with several political party leaders to decide what steps to take following the unrest. “Wickremesinghe has told the party leaders that he is willing to resign as Prime Minister and make way for an all-party government to take over,” his office said in a statement.
Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a letter to Rajapaksa that several decisions had been made at the meeting of leaders from parties — including the president and the prime minister resigning as soon as possible and parliament being called within seven days to select an acting president.
“Under the acting president the present parliament can appoint a new prime minister and an interim government,” said the letter released by the Speaker’s office.
“Afterwards under a set time an election can be held for the people to elect a new parliament,” it added. Leaders of several opposition parties have also called for Rajapaksa to resign. “The president and the prime minister must resign immediately. If that does not happen political instability will worsen,” said Sri Lanka Freedom Party leader and former president Maithripala Sirisena.