Protesters leave government buildings in Sri Lanka even though the president has not resigned after promising to do so.
Thousands of people stormed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s palace on Saturday and occupied it to protest the economic chaos in the country.
Mr Rajapaksa and his wife fled to the Maldives on Wednesday on an air force plane and he appointed the prime minister as interim president in his absence.
The appointment has further angered protesters who blame him for an economic crisis that has caused severe food and fuel shortages.
There were fears protests could escalate on Thursday due to Mr Rajapaksa’s apparent silence, but Sky News saw protesters at the presidential palace agree to leave.
Sky’s Nicole Johnston at the Presidential Palace in Colombo said at around 8.30am UK time: ‘Incredible scenes over the last few minutes we have seen the protest leaders start to leave the Presidential Palace this is passes right behind us. They’ I clapped and shouted that the fight was won.
“The protest leaders have decided enough is enough and it’s time to return these government buildings. So far, three out of four have been returned. One more is being negotiated.
“They cleaned it upstairs. They say they want it back in good condition. One of the reasons they returned it is because they were concerned about protecting it.”
It came as authorities imposed a new curfew from noon Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday in a bid to prevent any further protests.
While doing so, troops were seen moving to secure the Sri Lankan parliament building in armored personnel carriers.
A state of emergency had been declared earlier and a nationwide curfew was in place until Thursday morning.
Mr Rajapaksa had repeatedly assured the Speaker of Parliament that he would step down on Wednesday evening, but his letter of resignation had not arrived on Thursday, an aide to President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena told Reuters.
It is believed that the president first wanted to leave the country, using a military plane, as Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in office, but not once they leave office.
He was expected to travel to Singapore, but his final destination is unclear. Maldives officials said Mr Rajapaksa was taking a Saudi Airlines plane to Singapore and then to Saudi Arabia, AP reported.
What’s going on in Sri Lanka?
One person was killed and 84 injured in clashes between riot police and protesters on Wednesday near the parliament building and the prime minister’s office.
Crowds of people, undeterred by multiple tear gas canisters, scaled the walls to enter Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office as those outside cheered them on and threw water bottles at them.
Protesters took turns posing outside the Prime Minister’s office, taking similar photos to those they had taken when protesters stormed the presidential palace on Saturdayor stood on a rooftop terrace waving the Sri Lankan flag.
Protesters accuse Mr Rajapaksa and his powerful dynastic family of driving the country into economic chaos, but they are also angry at Mr Wickremesinghe, who they say protects the president.
It is unclear whether there will be further protests.
Earlier this week the opposition said it was trying to form a unity government to take over, but Mr Wickremesinghe said he would not leave until a new government was in place and that the opposition would be deeply fractured.
If Mr Rajapaksa steps down as planned, Sri Lankan MPs have agreed to elect a new president on July 20 to serve the rest of Mr Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.
Whichever MPs elect the president could potentially nominate a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by parliament.
There have been concerns that the military – which has warned people to stay calm – could become increasingly involved if protesters refuse to vacate any buildings they have stormed, or continue to demonstrate, which some have vowed to do if the president does. not resign publicly.