(Al Jazeera) Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is willing to resign to make way for an all-party government, his office says in a statement which follows angry protesters storming the president’s residence and office.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was evacuated from the President’s House in capital Colombo before thousands of protestors stormed his residence on Saturday, demanding his resignation, in one of the largest anti-government marches in the crisis-hit island this year.
A Facebook livestream from inside the president’s house showed hundreds of protesters packing into rooms and corridors, shouting slogans against the beleaguered 73-year-old leader.
Footage of protesters standing and some bathing in the swimming pool inside the president’s home was widely circulated on social media.
Hundreds also milled about on the grounds outside the colonial-era white-washed building. No security officials were visible. The president has been moved to a secure but undisclosed location, reports said.
Thousands of protesters also broke open the gates of the sea-front presidential secretariat and the finance ministry, which has been the site of a sit-in protest for months, and entered the premises, TV footage showed.
Military personnel and police at both locations were unable to hold back the crowd, as they chanted slogans asking Rajapaksa to step down.
“Today is independence day for me being born in this nation, not 1948, because today we have fought for our freedom from the tyranny and the scoundrels and greedy politicians who have run our nation to ground zero,” a protester told Al Jazeera.
PM calls emergency meet
Earlier on Saturday, Wickremesinghe called an emergency meeting of political party leaders and requested the speaker to summon parliament, a statement from the prime minister’s office said.
Wickremesinghe had also been moved to a secure location, a government source told Reuters news agency.
At least 39 people, including two police officers were injured and hospitalised in the protests, hospital sources told Reuters.
Reporting from Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez said the protesters are adamant the president must go.
“Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans are still streaming into Colombo… People stormed railway stations and literally forced employees to put them on trains and bring them to Colombo. They say they are taking their country back.”
Many in the island nation of 22 million people blame the country’s decline on Rajapaksa. Largely peaceful protests since March have demanded his resignation.
“I came here to chase away the president. The situation in the country is not good. He has to go for our country to come out of this abyss,” Gihan Roshan, 38, told Al Jazeera.
Sri Lanka is struggling under a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into the worst financial turmoil in 70 years.
Months of protests have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
One of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned as prime minister last month, and two other brothers and a nephew quit their cabinet posts earlier.
Wickremesinghe took over as prime minister in May and protests temporarily waned in the hope he could find cash for the country’s urgent needs.
But people now want him to resign as well, saying he has failed to fulfil his promises. One demonstrator held the Sri Lankan flag in one hand and a placard in the other that read: “Pissu Gota, Pissu Ranil” (Insane Gota, Insane Ranil) in Sinhalese.
Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, a researcher at Amnesty International told Al Jazeera Sri Lanka will “not come out of this crisis for some time”.
“There is a lot of wait and watch and that is affecting the people. We have not had fuel for days … Just imagine running out of fuel. People cant get to work. Kids can’t get to school. The whole economy is at a standstill,” she said from Colombo.