Sri Lanka crisis: Videos show protesters swarming president palace bedrooms, kitchen, gym, taking dip in pool

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Sri Lanka president will step down, government insists, as protesters remain unconvinced

Dramatic video footage from Sri Lanka showed anti-government protesters who took over Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential residence taking a dip in his swimming pool, using the state-of-the-art gymnasium, swarming his kitchen, and play-wrestling on his bed.

The crisis escalated on Saturday in the South Asian nation mired in a deep economic turmoil when thousands of anti-government protesters defied police firing to surround the president’s palace and set fire to the prime minister’s private home in Colombo.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said President Rajapaksa had informed him that he would step down from his post on Wednesday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said he was willing to resign to make way for an all-party government, according to an official statement quoted by Reuters.

The viral videos being shared on social media showed protesters taking selfies on the bed of presumably one of the palace’s many bedrooms. A few of them lay down on the floor, pillows tucked under their heads, watching television news of the mobbing. A group ransacked the kitchen, some others used the gym’s treadmills, while a few went through the bedroom cabinets, pulling out clothes and play wrestling on the beds.

The mobbing came after months of largely peaceful anti-government protests over an economic crisis that plunged people into hardships and poverty. An acute lack of essential items and long fuel queues have added to the popular anger.

On Saturday soldiers and police were unable to hold back the crowd demanding Mr Rajapaksa’s resignation even though warning shots were fired in the air. A Facebook livestream showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in the national flag, packing into rooms and corridors.

Mr Rajapaksa had left on Friday as a safety precaution ahead of the planned weekend demonstration, two defence ministry sources told Reuters. His whereabout are not yet made public.

There were no reports of injuries in the fire started at Mr Wickremesinghe’s private home on Saturday in an affluent Colombo neighbourhood. At least 39 people, including two police officers, were injured and hospitalised during the protests.

The country is struggling under a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Soaring inflation, which reached a record 54.6% in June and is expected to hit 70% in the coming months, has heaped hardship on the population.

The US State Department said they are following the developments closely and condemn any violence against peaceful protesters and journalists.

(Additional input from agencies)

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