Protesters in Sri Lanka defied tear gas, water cannon and a state of emergency to storm the prime minister’s office on Wednesday after the country’s embattled president fled overseas, with the crowd demanding both men step down in the face of an economic crisis. Read about the day’s events as they unfolded on our live blog. All times are Paris time, GMT+2.
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02:20am: Recap: Protesters defy state of emergency, raid PM’s office after president flees Protesters in Sri Lanka defied tear gas, water cannon and a state of emergency to storm the prime minister’s office on Wednesday after the country’s embattled president fled overseas, with the crowd demanding both men step down in the face of an economic crisis.
In a televised statement Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he had instructed the military and police to do “what is necessary to restore order”.
But armed security personnel stood by in the grounds of his office as protesters, some holding national flags, milled and took pictures.
Other demonstrators at one point broke into state television studios, as the country’s months-long political and economic crisis appeared to be moving towards a climax.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 73, promised at the weekend to resign on Wednesday after escaping his own official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it.
He flew to the neighbouring Maldives early Wednesday: as president, he enjoys immunity from arrest, and he is believed to have wanted to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
But midnight passed with no announcement he had stepped down.
In his absence he named as acting president Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose own office was soon afterwards mobbed by thousands of demonstrators demanding both officeholders should go.
“Go home Ranil, Go home Gota,” they shouted.
11:33pm: Protester reported dead from tear gas exposureLocal media said a 26-year-old protester who was hospitalised after being tear-gassed died of breathing difficulties.
“Some of the protesters who had gathered outside the parliament building have now dispersed,” police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa told Reuters. “The area is now calm.”
He said he had no information on how many were hospitalised.
10:29pm: Sri Lanka imposes nationwide curfew until Thursday morning Sri Lanka has issued a state of emergency and put a curfew in place until Thursday morning at 5am, according to an official notification issued on Wednesday.
5:13pm: Sri Lanka’s acting president asks parliamentary speaker to nominate a new prime ministerSri Lanka’s acting president and prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has asked the speaker of parliament to nominate a new prime minister, his media team said on Wednesday after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country.
“Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has informed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to nominate a prime minister who is acceptable to both the government and opposition,” the team said in a statement.
Protesters, angered by a severe economic crisis, have demanded that both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe resign.
4:18pm: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa set to fly to Singapore via Maldives Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was due to head to Singapore after fleeing to the Maldives in the early hours of Wednesday, a government source in Sri Lanka told Reuters, as protests continued in Colombo.
The source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said Rajapaksa could send his resignation to the Sri Lankan parliament’s speaker once he had landed in Singapore.
An aide to Rajapaksa and the Singapore government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
3:05pm: Rajapaksa faces protests in Maldives hours after landingEscaping Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faced protests in the Maldives hours after landing in the Indian Ocean island nation with demonstrators urging the Maldives government not to provide him safe heaven.
Sri Lankan expatriates carrying flags and placards denounced Rajapaksa, who fled his country early Wednesday after protesters overran his Colombo residence at the weekend over the worsening economic crisis in the South Asian nation.
“Dear Maldivian friends, please urge your government not to safeguard criminals,” said a black and white banner held by Sri Lankans working in the islands’ tiny capital.
Local reports suggested that Rajapaksa was staying at an exclusive resort and would leave for either the United Arab Emirates or Singapore later Wednesday.
2:01pm: Sri Lanka defence chief says military, police will respect constitution Sri Lanka’s defence chief, General Shavendra Silva has said the armed forces and police will respect the constitution, and called for calm after President Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives.
“We have requested political leaders to decide the way forward till a new president is sworn in and notify us and the public by this evening,” Silva said.
8:30am: Sri Lankan PM declares state of emergencyBefore leaving Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president since he is out of the country, according to the Parliament speaker. Rajapaksa has yet to resign, but Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said the president assured him he would later in the day.
But Wickremesinghe has said he would only leave once a new government was in place.
Amid the chaos, Wickremesinghe, whose whereabouts were not known, declared a nationwide state of emergency, and state television stopped broadcasting, but it was not clear why.
Protesters continued to stream into the presidential palace early Wednesday, joining others who have flocked to the presidential palace almost as if it were a tourist attraction.
At dawn, the protesters took a break from chanting as the Sri Lankan national anthem blared from speakers. A few waved the flag.
Malik D’ Silva, a 25-year-old demonstrator occupying the president’s office, said Rajapaksa “ruined this country and stole our money”. He said he voted for Rajapaksa in 2019, believing his military background would keep the country safe after Islamic State-inspired bomb attacks earlier that year killed more than 260 people.
Nearby, 28-year-old Sithara Sedaraliyanage and her 49-year-old mother wore black banners around their foreheads that read “Gota Go Home,” the rallying cry of the demonstrations.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)