Sri Lanka: Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agrees to step down as protesters storm palace

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The prime minister of Sri Lanka has agreed to step down, his office said on the same day anti-government protesters stormed the president’s residence.

Ranil Wickremesinghe told party leaders - who had demanded his resignation - that he would leave office once they all agree on forming a new government, according to his spokesperson.

It came after tens of thousands of protesters broke into and ransacked Sri Lanka’s presidential palace to vent their fury against a leader they hold responsible for the nation’s worst economic crisis.

At the same time, hundreds of protesters stormed the president’s office nearby, where demonstrators have been camping outside for months.

Protesters stormed the presidential residence on the same day (REUTERS)
Protesters stormed the presidential residence on the same day (REUTERS)
Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed to step down as Sri Lanka’s prime minister (AP)
Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed to step down as Sri Lanka’s prime minister (AP)

Leaders of political parties have called for both the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Mr Wickremesinghe - who had only been in office since May - to resign.

The prime minister’s office said on Saturday: “Wickremesinghe has told the party leaders that he is willing to resign as prime minister and make way for an all-party government to take over.”

He has been moved to a secure location amid the unrest, a government source told Reuters.

Protesters stormed the Sri Lankan presidential palace on Saturday (REUTERS)
Protesters stormed the Sri Lankan presidential palace on Saturday (REUTERS)

Mr Wickremesinghe took office as prime minister - taking over from the president’s older brother - in the middle of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, which has seen months of protests.

Much of the anger has been directed at the Rajapaksa family, which has ruled the country for much of the past two decades.

Huge crowds were seen outside the palace before going inside (REUTERS)
Huge crowds were seen outside the palace before going inside (REUTERS)
Sri Lankans are angry over the handling of the country’s econimic crisis (REUTERS)
Sri Lankans are angry over the handling of the country’s econimic crisis (REUTERS)

Frustration culminated in one of the biggest anti-government marches in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Saturday, with protesters calling for the president to resign.

Crowds pushed against barricades to storm Mr Rajapaksa’s residence to flood the corridors and rooms.

Images showed protesters carrying flags and taking photos inside the building, while others lay on the grass in the palace grounds.

Protesters took pictures after entering the president’s house (REUTERS)
Protesters took pictures after entering the president’s house (REUTERS)

Some even jumped into the president’s swimming pool. Another group of protesters were seen emptying out a chest of drawers in images that were widely circulated on social media.

At least 39 people are believed to have been injured in the protests on Saturday, which took place after police lifted a curfew overnight.

Sri Lanka‘s economy is in a state of collapse, muddling through with aid from India and other countries as its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

Some went swimming after getting inside the building (AFP via Getty Images)
Some went swimming after getting inside the building (AFP via Getty Images)
The country has been in turmoil for months (EPA)
The country has been in turmoil for months (EPA)

The economic meltdown has led to severe shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to buy food, fuel and other necessities. whose members have included presidents and ministers alike.

The turmoil has sparked months of protests demanding an end to the political rule of the Rajapaksa family, whose members have included presidents and ministers alike.

Discontent has worsened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country stopped receiving fuel shipments, forcing school closures and rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services.

Additional reporting by agencies

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