‘People are desperate’: Sri Lankan protesters storm PM’s office demanding resignation

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Thousands of Sri Lankans stormed the offices of the prime minister in the capital Colombo on July 13. The protesters demanded he leave his role as acting president after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country. According to our Observer, the unrest will continue to intensify as “desperate” protesters fight for new leadership in a country racked by economic disaster.

In the face of massive protests, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country the morning of July 13, bound for the Maldives. The move came just hours before he had promised to resign from his post. Blamed for a devastating economic crisis in the country that has triggered fuel and food shortages, the president has yet to resign.

With Rajapaksa out of the country, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – who had also promised to resign – was appointed acting president. He has said he will not resign until a new government is in place.

Turning their anger on the prime minister, thousands of protesters who had made their way to Colombo to ensure the president’s resignation descended upon the prime minister’s office.

On July 9, they had already occupied the presidential palace and prime minister’s residence, turning both buildings into publicly accessible protest zones.

>> Read more on The Observers: ‘Open to the public’: Sri Lankans create protest zones in occupied government buildings

‘There were several ambulances filled up with protesters’

Nisha (not her real name) is a 28-year-old financial analyst from Rathmalana, south of Colombo. She attended the protests in the capital on July 13.

The president had stated that he would be resigning today. So we had initially planned to go to Colombo today to make sure that he would comply with this statement. Honestly, we do not trust anything that comes out of the government anymore. There were thousands of people who all came to Colombo for this.

It was very difficult to get there, because there are almost no buses and many transportation issues right now due to fuel shortages. And even our vehicle doesn’t have fuel in it right now. We took the bus and it was super packed.

When we arrived around 10am, there was news about the current prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, taking over the president’s role. So everyone decided that we should walk towards his office and try to protest there against him taking up that position.

There was a lot of army personnel all along the street watching the protests. As we started walking toward the PM’s office, they came and walked along with us. We were at the back of the crowd, but the people at the front were being teargassed by the police. There was a huge white cloud of tear gas that we could see in front of us. There were also several ambulances that came down the street towards us and they were filled up with protesters. I saw people bleeding; I think they were beaten by the police. There were also people who had fainted from the tear gas.

At least 30 people were admitted to hospital following the protests, according to CNN, whose source said that injuries were mainly from tear gas inhalation or cuts and bruises after jumping over fences.

There was also a helicopter that was flying very low above the protesters. We were thinking it was just there to intimidate us. At one point it flew very very low and people panicked and started running away. We weren’t even being violent, we were just chanting our slogans.

When the people began to try and enter the PM’s office, I stayed back because I was there with my sister and I was worried for her safety.

Crowds of protesters broke through police barricades and used a battering ram to force open the gates of the prime minister’s office.

‘Those buildings belong to the people because we pay for them with our taxes’

Nisha continued:

The people really didn’t seem angry to me. In all, we are mostly just hopeful that something will change. It has been three months that we have been out in the streets protesting. And it’s been very difficult. We are struggling, our cars are just stuck in our garages because there is no fuel. So people are very desperate. The president and the prime minister have had months of help from the international community to find time to have a solution but still nothing has changed and they have put us in this economic crisis.

On July 9 [Editor’s note: when protesters stormed several places of power],the protesters knew that the president and the PM were not in those places. They mainly went there as a symbol. Those buildings belong to the people because we pay for them with our taxes. So they were really just saying that these places shouldn’t be barred to the public.

We just want a leader who will be fair and responsible. And the people will not stop protesting until that happens.

Wickremesinghe, acting as president, declared a state of emergency and a curfew in Sri Lanka, but later cancelled both orders.

Protesters also broke into the country’s main state television station, forcing broadcasts to be cut off.

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