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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe both agreed to step down after thousands of protesters stormed the president’s residence to protest a crippling economic crisis in the South Asian nation.
Protesters in the city of Colombo broke through police barricades and stormed the president’s residence and office on Saturday and targeted the prime minister’s private residence, setting him on fire, reportedly.
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament, said Rajapaksa agreed to step down with effect on Wednesday.
Previously, protesters carried Sri Lankan flags and helmets as they broke into Rajapaksa’s residence, sitting on beds and swimming in a pool. “The president was escorted to safety,” a senior defense source told AFP.
The country, made up of around 22 million people, suffers from a severe shortage of foreign exchange, which has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. This shortage has pushed the island into the worst financial situation of the last 70 years.
“To ensure the continuation of government, including the safety of all citizens, I accept today the best recommendation from party leaders to make way for an all-party government,” tweeted Wickremesinghe. “To facilitate this, I will resign as Prime Minister.”
Rajapaksa has been blamed by many for the country’s economic decline. Protests have been underway since March in which demonstrators have called for the resignation of the president. Saturday’s protest is believed to be one of the biggest anti-government marches this year.
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Sri Lankan media video showed protesters raiding the president’s residence.
According to a witness, thousands of protesters made their way into the Colombo government district, breaking multiple police barricades before reaching Rajapaksa’s residence.
Police fired shots in the air but failed to stop protesters from surrounding the president’s home, the witness said.
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A severe fuel shortage on the Asian island blocked transportation services, but protesters still traveled on buses, trains and trucks from different areas of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s economic failures.
The impoverished country in recent weeks has stopped receiving shipments of fuel, which has forced the closure of schools and has limited gasoline and diesel for services deemed essential.
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The country has been hit by massive fuel shortages and high levels of inflation. Inflation in Sri Lanka reached 54.6% in June.
Political instability could damage Sri Lanka’s discussions with the International Monetary Fund, from which they seek a $ 3 billion bailout, a restructuring of some foreign debts and a fundraising from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the burden of the worsening. scarcity of dollars.
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Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.