Spokesman says protesters have broken into Sri Lankan prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Protesters broke into the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s private residence and set it on fire hours after he said he would resign if a new government is formed, in Saturday’s biggest day of angry demonstrations, which also saw crowds storming the home and office of the President.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office said protesters entered his home in Colombo on Saturday night. It was not immediately clear if he was inside at the time of the attack.

Wickremesinghe previously said he would not step down until all parties agreed on a new government.

He was responding to a call from leaders of political parties represented in Parliament for him and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down after tens of thousands of people poured into the capital to vent their anger at the leaders they blame for the country’s worst economic and political crisis make responsible .

“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have had the head of the World Food Program come here and we have several issues to discuss with the IMF. Therefore, if this government leaves, there should be another government,” Wickremesinghe said in a voice message.

But he made it clear he would not resign until a new government was formed, angering crowds who flocked to his home to force him to leave office immediately.

Wickremesinghe said he had proposed an all-party government to the President but said nothing about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. The opposition parties in parliament are currently discussing the formation of a new government.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe prime minister in May in hopes the career politician would use his diplomacy and contacts to revive a collapsed economy. But people’s patience waned as fuel, medicine and cooking gas shortages only grew and oil reserves dried up.

Many protesters have accused Wickremesinghe of trying to save Rajapaksa when he was being pressured to resign and all the other members of his powerful political dynasty were leaving the cabinet.

The privately owned Sirasa Television reported that at least six of its employees, including four reporters, were hospitalized after being beaten by police while covering the protest near Wickremesinghe’s home.

The Sri Lanka Medical Council, the country’s top professional body, warned the country’s hospitals are operating with minimal resources and will be unable to cope with mass casualties from the unrest.

The association said the president, prime minister and government would be held responsible if people died or were maimed. She called on leaders to heed the people’s cry to step down and hand over the reins of an all-party government.

Crowds broke into Rajapaksa’s fortified residence on Saturday. The footage showed people in a jubilant mood taking a dip in the residence’s garden pool. Some lay on beds, others made tea and drank, and made “explanations” from the conference room that Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe needed to stop immediately.

It was not clear if Rajapaksa was at his home when it was stormed. A government spokesman, Mohan Samaranayake, said he had no information on his movements.

Political party leaders in parliament later met and decided to ask Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to step down, opposition MP Rauff Hakeem said on Twitter. He said a consensus had been reached that the speaker of the parliament should take over as interim president and work on an interim government.

Sri Lanka’s economy is in a state of collapse, dependent on aid from India and elsewhere, while leaders attempt to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. The economic collapse has led to serious shortages of essential goods, making it difficult for people to buy food, fuel and other necessities.

The turmoil has sparked months of protests that nearly crushed the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for nearly two decades.

The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after taking refuge amid violent protests at a naval base. Much of the public anger has been directed at the Rajapaksa family, with protesters accusing them of wreaking havoc in Sri Lanka with allegations of poor management and corruption.

At the president’s seafront office, security personnel tried to stop protesters who pushed through fences to run across the lawns and into the colonial-era building.

At least 34 people, including two police officers, were injured in scuffles as protesters tried to enter the residence. Two of the injured were in critical condition, while others sustained minor injuries, said an official at Colombo National Hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Thousands of protesters poured into the capital from the suburbs after police lifted a night curfew. With fuel shortages, many crowded onto buses and trains to get into the city to protest, while others biked or walked.

Protest and religious leaders called for Rajapaksa to resign, saying he had lost the people’s mandate.

“His claim that he was elected by Sinhala Buddhists is not valid now,” Ven said. Omalpe Sobitha, a prominent Buddhist leader. He called on Parliament to convene immediately to elect an interim president, but said Wickremesinghe did not enjoy popular support.

Last month, Wickremesinghe said the country’s economy had collapsed. He said negotiations with the IMF were complex because Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt state.

In April, Sri Lanka announced that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a shortage of foreign exchange. Its total external debt is $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Police had imposed a curfew in Colombo and several other major urban areas on Friday night, but lifted it on Saturday morning amid objections from lawyers and opposition politicians who called it illegal.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday urged people to protest peacefully and urged the military and police to “allow peaceful protesters the space and security to do so”.

“Chaos and violence will not fix the economy or bring the political stability Sri Lankans need now,” Chung said in a tweet.

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Associated Press writers Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Krutika Pathi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://6abc.com/sri-lankan-prime-ministers-ranil-wickremesinghe-minister-home-set-on-fire/12036311/ Spokesman says protesters have broken into Sri Lankan prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire

Alley Einstein

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