Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency after the president fled the country and protestors breached major buildings including the prime minister’s offices.
President Rajapaksa fled with his wife to the Maldives hours before he was due to resign, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe being named as acting president. Wickremesinghe declared the state of emergency immediately, with protesters having already taken over his own offices as well as a state TV broadcaster.
The acting president authorized police and military to use any means necessary to restore order.
Protesters had been calling for the removal of Wickremesinghe as well as Rajapaksa, and were incensed by the former’s appointment as temporary leader. Thousands clashed with police outside the prime minister’s offices, where they eventually overpowered authorities and stormed the building. A separate group also took over the offices of the Rupavahini state media centre in Colombo, with the events being caught briefly on live TV before the channel went off air.
Wickremesinghe defiantly described the protesters as “fascists”. He gave no indication he would be following Rajapaksa’s lead in fleeing the country.
Opposition politicians have called on the acting president to make a full and immediate exit from Sri Lankan politics in the name of peace and stability, with some asking for support from the international community.
Sri Lanka is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since declaring independence, with food and fuel shortages commonplace across the country. Social unrest has been building for several months but has hit a crescendo in recent weeks.
The Sri Lankan government is in negotiations with the IMF over a support package to enable the nation to afford essential imports, though progress is being impeded by the unrest currently gripping the country.