Party in the palace: Sri Lankans roam President's compound

Party in the palace: Sri Lankans roam President’s compound, enjoying pillow fights, the cricket, trying his private gym and swimming pool – hours before protestors torched the Prime Minister’s house as President and PM say they will quit

  • Thousands of protesters in Sri Lanka stormed the presidential palace in capital city of Colombo yesterday
  • They enjoyed a raucous party in the luxury compound, including a pool party, pillow fight and gym work out 
  • Protesters set PM’s residence on fire, hours after he said he’ll resign when new government formed
  • There has been public anger directed at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with numerous protests since March
  • Police fired tear gas and bullets into the air in an effort to keep crowds back but but they surged past them 
  • The country is experiencing an acute shortage of fuel, food and medicine due to a lack of foreign currency

More video has emerged overnight of Sri Lankan protestors having fun and enjoying themselves after they stormed the President’s House and presidential compound on Saturday – until a fire was started in the prime minister’s residence.

The raucous uprising was enough to force the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President and Prime Minister, as months of frustration brought on by an unprecedented economic crisis boiled over.

As well as holding an impromptu pool party, the protestors enjoyed a sing-along on the president’s grand piano, a pillow fight in the prime minister’s bedrooms, and even made time for a spot of weight-lifting in the president’s private gym.

But the light-hearted high jinx gave way to more ominous anger as a fire was started in the prime minister’s private home Temple Trees that burned into the night. The prime minister was not present at the time.

The prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said he will leave office once an all-party interim government is in place, hours before the speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would also step down on Wednesday July 13.

Calm had returned to Colombo by the following morning, as Sri Lankans roamed through the ransacked presidential palace a day after protesters had stormed the building. 

Hundreds of thousands of people had massed in the capital Colombo on Saturday to demand the government take responsibility for mismanaging the nation’s finances, and for crippling food and fuel shortages.

Cadets of Sri Lankan Air Force stand guard in front of the residence of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister on Sunday as calm returned to the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, a day after it was vandalised by protestors in Colombo

Hundreds of protestors entered the President’s House in Colombo yesterday, some waving Sri Lankan flags and wearing hard hats

Members of special task force stand guard in front of the residence of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister after it was set on fire by angry protestors yesterday

A member of security personnel inspects a police vehicle that angry demonstrators stormed past yesterday on their way to ransack the presidential compound

About 45 people had been brought into a main hospital, a hospital official said, but there were no reports of any deaths. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has been in talks with the Sri Lankan government for a possible $3 billion bailout, said on Sunday it was monitoring events closely.

‘We hope for a resolution of the current situation that will allow for resumption of our dialogue on an IMF-supported programme,’ the global lender said in a statement.

The political chaos could complicate efforts to pull Sri Lanka out of its worst economic crisis in seven decades, triggered by a severe shortage of foreign currency that has stalled the imports of essentials like fuel, food and medicines. 

Police had attempted to thwart promised protests with a curfew, then lifted it as lawyers and opposition politicians denounced it as illegal. 

After storming the gates of the presidential palace, a throng of protesters walked through its rooms, with some among the boisterous crowd jumping into thne compound’s pool.

Others were seen laughing and lounging in the stately bedrooms of the residence, with one pulling out what he claimed was a pair of Rajapaksa’s underwear.

On Sunday, amazed ordinary folk took the opportunity to inspect the colonial-era building. Members of the security forces, some with assault rifles, stood outside the compound but did not stop people going in.

Among those taking a look was 61-year-old handkerchief seller B.M. Chandrawathi, who sauntered into a first-floor bedroom accompanied by her daughter and grandchildren.

‘I’ve never seen a place like this in my life,’ Chandrawathi said as she tried out a plush sofa.

‘They enjoyed super luxury while we suffered,’ she said. ‘We were hoodwinked. I wanted my kids and grandkids to see the luxurious lifestyles they were enjoying.’

Firefighters tackle the flames at the private home of the Sri Lankan prime minister in Colombo

Flames rip through the residence, after it was set ablaze by protesters in Colombo

Firefighters look up at a collapsing roof being eaten by flames following a protest

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s home was burned, having said that he will leave office once a new government is in place

Firefighters in action at the private residence of the Prime Minister

Firefighters in action at the private residence of the Prime Minister

At around the same time, the leader had boarded a naval craft at the Colombo port and was taken to the island’s southern waters, where he let it be known he was finally bowing to months of calls for his resignation.

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

Mr Rajapaksa will remain temporarily to ensure a smooth transfer of power, Mr Abeywardena added.

‘There is no need for further disturbances in the country, and I urge everyone for the sake of the country to maintain peace to enable a smooth transition,’ the speaker continued. 

Opposition legislator Rauff Hakeem said a consensus was reached for the speaker of Parliament to take over as temporary president and work on an interim government.

Wickremesinghe announced his own impending resignation but said he would not step down until a new government is formed, angering protesters who demanded his immediate departure.

‘Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF,’ Wickremesinghe said.

‘Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government.’

Wickremesinghe said he suggested to the president to have an all-party government, and called a meeting with political leaders where he said he was willing to step down to pave the way for a unity government.

But this failed to placate protesters, who stormed the premier’s private residence and set it alight after night fell.

Footage shared on social media showed a crowd cheering the blaze, which broke out shortly after a security detachment guarding Wickremesinghe attacked several journalists outside the home.

Firefighters try to douse a fire at the Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence, in Colombo

Crews work to tame the flames taking hold of the Prime Minister’s Colombo residence 

Thousands of protesters have stormed the prime minster’s house in the capital of Colombo and set it on fire today, hours after he said he would resign when a new government is formed

Fire burns at Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house, after it was set ablaze by protesters, amid the country’s economic crisis

The red haze of smoke can be seen rising into the air in one video shared from the Colombo area

Protesters stand on a vandalised police water canon truck and shout slogans at the entrance to president’s official residence in Colombo

Protesters sing and dance after storming in at the Sri Lankan president official residence

After storming the gates of the presidential palace, a throng of protesters walked through its rooms, with some among the boisterous crowd jumping into the compound’s pool

Protesters storm in at the Sri Lankan president’s official residence, in Colombo

Sri Lanka: Timeline of a crisis 

April 1: State of emergency

Rajapaksa declares a temporary state of emergency, giving security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects, after a spate of protests.

April 3: Cabinet resigns

Almost all of Sri Lanka’s cabinet resigns at a late-night meeting, leaving Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda – the prime minister – isolated.

The governor of the central bank, having resisted calls to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announces his resignation a day later.

April 5: President loses majority

President Rajapaksa’s problems deepen as finance minister Ali Sabry resigns just a day after he was appointed.

The embattled leader loses his parliamentary majority as former allies urge him to quit. He lifts the state of emergency.

April 10: Medicine shortages

Sri Lanka’s doctors say they are nearly out of life-saving medicines, warning that the crisis could end up killing more than the coronavirus pandemic.

April 12: Foreign debt default

The government announces it is defaulting on its foreign debt of $51 billion as a ‘last resort’ after running out of foreign exchange to import desperately needed goods.

April 19: First casualty

Police kill a protester, the first casualty of several weeks of anti-government protests.

The next day the IMF says it has asked Sri Lanka to restructure its colossal external debt before a rescue package can be agreed.

May 9: Day of violence

A mob of government loyalists bussed in from the countryside attack peaceful protesters camped outside the president’s seafront office in Colombo.

Nine people are killed and hundreds more injured in the reprisal attacks that follow, with crowds targeting those responsible for the violence and setting fire to the homes of lawmakers.

Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns as prime minister, and has to be rescued by troops after thousands of protesters storm his residence in Colombo.

He is replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe, a political veteran who had already served several terms as premier.

May 10: Shoot-to-kill orders

The defence ministry orders troops to shoot on sight anyone involved in looting or ‘causing harm to life’.

But protesters defy a fresh government curfew, which is rolled back at the end of the week.

The top police officer in Colombo is assaulted and his vehicle set ablaze.

June 10: ‘Humanitarian emergency’

The United Nations warns that Sri Lanka is facing a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions already in need of aid.

More than three-quarters of the population had reduced their food intake due to the country’s severe food shortages, the UN says.

June 27: Fuel sales suspended

The government says Sri Lanka is nearly out of fuel and halts all petrol sales except for essential services.

July 1: New inflation record

The government publishes data showing inflation has hit a record high for the ninth consecutive month, a day after the IMF asks Sri Lanka to rein in high prices and galloping inflation.

July 9: President’s home stormed

President Rajapaksa flees his official residence in Colombo with the assistance of troops, shortly before demonstrators storm the compound, and he is taken to an undisclosed location offshore.

Footage from inside the residence shows jubilant protesters jumping in the pool and exploring its stately bedrooms.

Wickremesinghe’s residence is set on fire. Police say he and his family were not at the scene.

Rajapaksa later offers to step down on July 13, parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana says in a televised statement. 

Rajapaksa had to be extracted from his residence by troops who fired into the air to keep the crowd outside at bay.

Soon after they stormed the presidential palace, Rajapaksa’s nearby seafront office also fell into the hands of protesters. 

No casualties have been reported in the fire so far, and police said Wickremesinghe and his family were away at the time.

Security forces attempted to disperse the huge crowds that had mobbed Colombo’s administrative district earlier in the day, with dozens injured in the resulting clashes.

A spokeswoman for Colombo’s main hospital said three people were being treated for gunshot wounds, along with 36 others suffering breathing difficulties after being caught up in tear gas barrages.

The fire came hours after the Prime Minister he said he would resign over a worsening economic crisis. In videos on social media, red smoke can be seen rising into the sky, as flames take hold. 

The office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the protesters forced their way into his Colombo home on Saturday evening. He said earlier that he will resign only when all parties have agreed on a new government.

He was responding to a call by leaders of political parties represented in Parliament that he and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa quit, after tens of thousands of people trooped to the capital to vent their fury at the leaders they hold responsible for the nation’s worst economic and political crisis. 

‘Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF. Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government,’ he said. 

But he made it clear he will not step down before a new government is formed, angering crowds that moved near his home to force him to leave office immediately. 

Two defence ministry sources said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was removed from the official premises on Friday for his safety ahead of the planned rally over the weekend, with government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake unsure of Rajapaksa’s whereabouts.

The island of 22 million people 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.

Many blame the country’s decline on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as it muddles through with aid from India and other countries and its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. 

The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base, while three other Rajapaksa relatives had quit their Cabinet posts earlier. 

Much of the public ire has been pointed at the Rajapaksa family, with protesters blaming them for dragging Sri Lanka into chaos with poor management and allegations of corruption and nepotism. 

A new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, took over in May to help steer the country out of the crisis. Meanwhile, Rajapaksa has held on to power despite largely peaceful protests since March demanding his resignation.

Thousands of people swarmed into Colombo’s government district, shouting slogans against the president and dismantling several police barricades to reach Rajapaksa’s house, a witness said. 

There were even reports that angry protesters from out of town had forced railway staff to run trains to take them to Colombo. 

Thousands of people broke through barricades and entered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and nearby office to vent their anger against a leader they hold responsible for the nation’s worst crisis. 

Footage showed people in a jubilant mood taking a dip in the garden pool of the residence. Some lay on beds, others made tea and drank, and made ‘statements’ from the conference room that Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe must immediately quit. 

Wickremesinghe said he suggested to the president to have an all-party government, but didn’t say anything about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. Opposition parties in Parliament were currently discussing the formation of a new government.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in the hope that the career politician would use his diplomacy and contacts to resuscitate a collapsed economy. But people’s patience wore thin as shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas only increased and oil reserves ran dry.

Many protesters accuse Wickremesinghe of trying to save Rajapaksa when he came under pressure to resign and every other member of his powerful political dynasty quit the Cabinet.

Later Saturday evening, protesters to Wickremesinghe’s home in a bid to force him to quit immediately.

Privately-owned Sirasa Television reported that at least six of their staff members including four reporters were hospitalised after they were beaten by police while covering the protest near Wickremesinghe’s home.

Sri Lanka Medical Council, the country’s top professional body, warned that the country’s hospitals were running with minimum resources and will not be able to handle any mass casualties from the unrest.

Demonstrators have been camped outside the entrance to his office for the past three months. 

Videos posted on social media showed protesters storming the residence, chanting ‘Gota go home,’ calling the president by his nickname. Dozens were seen jumping into the pool, milling about the house and and watching television. Outside the building, barricades were overturned and a black flag was hoisted on a pole.

At the president’s office, security personnel tried to stop demonstrators who pushed through fences to run across the lawns and inside the colonial-era building.

Police fired shots in the air but were unable to stop the angry crowd from surrounding the presidential residence and pushing through fences to run across the lawns and inside the colonial-era building. 

At least 34 people including two police officers were wounded in scuffles as protesters tried to enter the residence. Two of the injured are in critical condition while others sustained minor injuries, said an official at the Colombo National Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media. 

Sri Lanka Medical Council said that the president, prime minister and the government would be held responsible if people died or were maimed. It urged the leaders to heed the cry of the people, resign and hand over the reins to an all-party government.  

Protesters stand on a vandalised police water canon truck and shout slogans at the entrance to president’s official residence in Colombo

Protesters walk past a vandalised security gate at the entrance to president’s official residence

Protesters sit and walk around after storming in at the Sri Lankan president’s office in Colombo

Protesters stand on top of police water canon truck as others walk past demolished line of barricades outside the president’s official residence

Sri Lanka Army riot squad personnel prepare to stop protesters from proceeding towards the President’s House

Sri Lankan protesters dismantle iron barricades as Police Special Task Force personnel try to prevent them at the approach road to the President’s House

Protestors stormed the President’s House in Colombo today in anger at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s handling of an ongoing economic crisis, occupying the colonial grounds and climbing onto the rooves 

Angry protesters gather inside the compound of Sri Lanka’s Presidential Palace in Colombo after they stormed past police barricades

People in Sri Lanka have struggled to buy essential items such as fuel, food and medicine, due to rampant inflation and a lack of foreign currency to pay for imports from abroad 

They are furious at a government and a leader that has overseen mass shortages of essential items, rampant inflation and rolling electricity blackouts that blight their lives

A raging demonstrator speaks from inside the President’s House after storming the palace along with thousands of others

Protesters stormed the palace and paraded through the corridors chanting against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and even took a dip in his pool 

Protesters languish in the garden and some on the rooftop after forcibly entering Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The President’s House is the official residence and workplace of the President of Sri Lanka. Built in 1804, it was previously the residence of the British Governor and Governors-General and was known as the ‘King’s House’ or the ‘Queen’s House’ until Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been blamed for the economic crises pummelling the country under his leadership

Security forces fire tear gas to disperse an anti government protest rally outside the presidents official residence

Security forces move down the road, releasing tear gas to try and stop protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka  

A man shields his eyes from tear gas fired by security forces in a bid to stop protesters

Security forces fire tear gas to disperse an anti government protest rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Police use water canons and fire tear gas to disperse the protesters angry at the president in Colombo, Sri Lanka today

Sri Lanka police fired tear gas at Colombo protesters, calling for the President to step down

Huge crowds of people attend an anti government protest rally, calling for the resignation of the president over the alleged failure to address the economic crisis 

Protests have been rocking the country for over three months before demonstrators stormed the president’s palace today

Protesters react to a tear gas cannister, with one donning a gas mask and another readying a blanket to smother it with

A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk pleads with Sri Lanka Police in Colombo

Protesters cover their faces and try to disperse and flee as a tear gas shell fired by police lands next to them

Security forces fire tear gas to disperse a massed crowd in an anti government protest rally, as they call for the resignation of the president and prime minister

Sri Lankan protesters demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa steps down from the Presidency climb atop a water canon at the approach road to President’s House

Colleagues as well as protesters assist a soldier who had inhaled tear gas

A first aid provider and others carry a protestor injured of collapsed during the protest

Why are Sri Lankans so furious with their president? 

The fury that Sri Lankans feel towards President Gotabaya Rajapaksa runs deep. Rolling blackouts cut electricity to power fans and air-conditioners, essential items double in price each month, and petrol to fuel tuk-tuks and motorbikes is hard to come by.

Sri Lankans must now dedicate enormous quantities of their time to queueing. Queueing for food, queueing for gas, queueing for water. This is on top of their usual working weeks, to earn rupees that are worth less and less.

In poorer neighbourhoods, people have taken to banding together and cooking in the street – with the food they can afford and the food they can find. Malnourishment is now a problem in South Asia’s most developed country.

These problems, long-running and ongoing as they are, are put squarely at the door of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, who have run the country like their own personal business for over a decade.

Between Gotabaya and his brother, Mahinda, who was prime minister until he was forced out by violent riots in May, and the other brothers and family members they appointed to governmental posts, they have been accused of a myriad of corruption offences.

Ranging from dodgy deals with Chinese state companies to diverting tsunami relief funds and dipping into public coffers to make personal purchases of land, the alleged mismanagement has been egregious. 

The present prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, revealed that Sri Lanka has less than $1 million in foreign reserves, dwindling medical supplies and almost no fuel.

It was not clear if Rajapaksa was inside his residence when it was stormed earlier Saturday. A government spokesman, Mohan Samaranayake, said he had no information about his movements. 

Leaders of political parties in Parliament met later and decided to request Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to step down, opposition lawmaker Rauff Hakeem said on Twitter. He said a consensus was reached that the parliamentary speaker should take over as temporary president and work on an interim government.

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

The economic meltdown has led to severe shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to buy food, fuel and other necessities. 

The turmoil has led to months of protests, which have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. 

With fuel supplies scarce, many protesters crowded onto buses and trains to come to the city to protest, while others made their way on bicycles and on foot.

Protest and religious leaders called on Rajapaksa to step down, saying he has lost the people’s mandate.

‘His claim that he was voted in by the Sinhala Buddhists is not valid now,’ said Ven. Omalpe Sobitha, a prominent Buddhist leader. He urged Parliament to convene immediately to select an interim president but said that Wickremesinghe did not enjoy the people’s support.

Protest leaders in their proclamation demanded the resignation of not only the president and the government but all government officials and the country’s ambassadors. They said that the protesters should have access to governance as a pressure group.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has summoned an emergency meeting of political party leaders today in response.

Last month, Wickremesinghe said the country’s economy had collapsed. He said that the negotiations with the IMF have been complex because Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.

The economic meltdown has led to severe shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to buy food, fuel and other necessities.

The turmoil has led to months of protests, which have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

In April, Sri Lanka announced it is suspending repaying foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage. Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Police had imposed a curfew in Colombo and several other main urban areas on Friday night but withdrew it Saturday morning amid objections by lawyers and opposition politicians who called it illegal.

U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday asked people to protest peacefully and called for the military and police ‘to grant peaceful protesters the space and security to do so.’

Demonstrators run from tear gas used by police during a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

People at the anti government protest rally near the President’s house in Colombo call for the resignation of the president over the alleged failure to address the economic crisis

Protestors march in an anti-government demonstration outside the Galle International Cricket Stadium in the south of the island during the second day play of the second cricket Test match between Sri Lanka and Australia

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade towards police members as police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators

Police and security troops react to a tear gas cannister that has landed near them

‘Chaos & force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,’ Chung said in a tweet.

Despite a severe shortage of fuel that has stalled transportation services, demonstrators packed into buses, trains and trucks from several parts of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s failure to protect them from economic ruin.

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. 

Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman took an overcrowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo 45 km (30 miles) north of Colombo, to join the protest.

‘We have told Gota over and over again to go home but he is still clinging onto power. We will not stop until he listens to us,’ Perera said.

He is among the millions squeezed by chronic fuel shortages and inflation that hit 54.6% in June.

Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund seeking a $3 billion bailout, a restructuring of some foreign debt and fund-raising from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the dollar drought.

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