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Sri Lanka’s president chased from home

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lankan protesters refused to budge from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence yesterday after storming his home, forcing him to flee with the navy and to announce his resignation.

The dramatic events on Saturday were the culmination of months of protests by people enraged by the nation’s unprecedented economic crisis and the Rajapaksa clan’s incompetence and corruption.

Hundreds of thousands massed in Colombo demanding Rajapaksa take responsibility for shortages of medicines, food and fuel that have brought the once-relatively rich economy to its knees and caused misery for ordinary people.

After storming the gates of the colonial-era presidential palace, protesters lounged in its opulent rooms, somersaulting into the compound’s pool and going through Rajapaksa’s clothes.

Troops fired in the air to help Rajapaksa escape on Saturday. He then boarded a naval craft which steamed away from the island to the safety of the island’s southern waters.

From there the 73-year-old, who clung to power even after deadly nationwide violence in May forced his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa to quit as prime minister, decided finally to throw in the towel.

“To ensure a peaceful transition, the president said he will step down on July 13,” parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana said in a statement.

Rajapaksa’s nearby seafront office also fell into protesters’ hands while others set fire to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residence even after he too offered to resign.

The premier was not there at the time of the incident.

People crowd inside the official residence of Sri Lanka’s President in Colombo. PHOTO: AFP