The unprecedented events in Colombo are the result of more than three months of protests by ordinary Sri Lankan citizens against the government, and in particular against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The country’s presidential secretariat, the heart of the government, was stormed by thousands of protesters. Many with the nation’s flag draped over them ran up the steps and into the iconic building.

The prime minister’s home was later set on fire by protesters, hours after he announced he would step down. The president, under intense pressure to follow suit, did so around 11 p.m. local time.

Since the morning, there had been clashes between protesters and security forces in the capital Colombo.

Undeterred by tear gas, police firing into the air and water cannons, protesters gathered to march on the president’s house to force him to resign. Many would be injured.

Their patience ran out as they argued with the military who tried to arrest them.

With their numbers, momentum and determination, they made a last ditch effort and smashed multi-level police barriers in their way.

They stormed the heavily fortified president’s house and made their way safely through gardens, hallways and many rooms in the building. As they moved around taking photos and selfies, they warned their president to leave.

And few did not miss an opportunity to cool off by jumping into the swimming pool of the most secure address in the country.

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Protesters swim in the presidential pool

Mr Rajapaksa had previously been evacuated to an undisclosed location and it was reported that he had been transferred to a navy vessel.

Temple Tree, the official residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wikremesinghe, was also not spared – it too was stormed.

In an emergency meeting, the Prime Minister agreed to step down so that a multiparty government could be formed.

A lawyer who did not want to be identified said: “At the moment I think people’s wrestling is going forward successfully. And I wish all the best for the wrestling and in the end we will make a good change for our country”.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are facing the worst economic crisis ever, which has driven up prices and triggered shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

The deep-rooted economic crisis went unaddressed for decades by successive governments.

The reckless and mismanaged economic policies of the Rajapaksa administration have deepened the crisis.

Crowds gathered outside the president's office in Colombo.  Photo: AP
Crowds gathered outside the president’s office in Colombo. Photo: AP
Protesters inside the home of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo.  Photo: AP
Protesters inside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s house in Colombo. Photo: AP

Tax cuts, severe import restrictions and reluctance to introduce prudent economic reforms have laid bare the structural deficiency of the government’s economic policy.

With a severe balance of payments crisis, international agencies downgraded the country, further hampering any possibility of foreign investment.

Protesters wear gas masks after tear gas was dispersed Pic: AP
Protesters came prepared with gas masks. Photo: AP

Tourism generates more than $4 billion a year, but the industry has been hit hard by the COVID pandemic.

To fend for itself in the short term, the government borrowed heavily, forcing the country into a debt trap.

The country is virtually bankrupt, with no foreign exchange reserves to buy vital commodities.

It defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt and is currently in talks for a $3 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

However, the scale of the crisis is such that these loans may not be sufficient to get out of balance of payments problems any time soon, given the huge current deficit.

But for now, it is ordinary Sri Lankans who will have to bear the brunt of the country’s worst man-made disaster.

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