Protesters in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo on Wednesday stormed the prime minister’s office, demanding his resignation amid a crippling economic crisis, local media reported.
It came hours after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country, as protests are sweeping the South Asian country due to the economic crisis which has spiraled into a political chaos.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed acting president, in a televised public address, ordered the military to “restore order” and called on protesters to cooperate with authorities.
“We can’t tear up our Constitution. We can’t allow fascists to take over. We must end this fascist threat to democracy,” Wickremesinghe said, according to Tamil Guardian news site.
Sri Lanka’s embattled president fled the country on a military jet early Wednesday, according to several reports citing unnamed local officials.
Rajapaksa, his wife and a bodyguard landed in the Maldives, Tamil Guardian said, citing Sri Lankan officials.
Amid mass protests in the wake of a worsening economic crisis, Sri Lanka’s Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said Saturday that the president would resign on July 13.
The development came after thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Colombo and also set fire to the prime minister’s home.
Wickremesinghe also agreed on Saturday to resign after the formation of an all-party government.
Protesters have blamed Rajapaksa’s political dynasty for the crisis. Mahinda Rajapaksa, a brother of the president, resigned as prime minister in May.
Crippled by a shortage of foreign exchange after the collapse of its tourism-dependent economy, the island nation of 22 million people has defaulted on all of its foreign debt.
It has been unable to pay for fuel and other essentials, resulting in anti-government protests. A lack of fuel to run power stations has in turn led to daily power cuts. Schools have been shut and state employees have been asked to work from home.
The government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.