Thousands of demonstrators in Sri Lanka broke through police barricades and stormed the official residence of the president.

In one of the biggest anti-government marches to take place in the country this year, as the economy crumbles, demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Gathabai Rajapaksa.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced he would step down on Saturday afternoon as Mr Rajapaksa faces intense pressure to follow suit.

“To ensure the survival of the government, including the safety of all citizens, I am accepting the best advice from party leaders for today to make way for an all-party government,” he tweeted.

He resigned after thousands of people marched in the government quarters Sri Lankaof the capital Colombo, shouting slogans against the president and dismantling several police barricades to reach his home.

The police fired into the air, but were unable to stop the angry crowd that surrounded the residence.

At least 39 people, including two policemen, were injured in the riots, hospital sources said.

Protesters also gathered near the presidential secretariat – the office of the president – and the house of the prime minister.

Both Mr. Rajapaksa and Mr. Wickremesinghe have been moved to a safe location as a precaution, Defense Ministry sources said.

Hundreds of flag-waving protesters gathered on the presidential waterfront and used the pool live on Facebook.

Protesters at the president’s house in Colombo. Photo: AP

Mr Wickremesinghe, who was appointed in May, resigned after calling political party leaders to an emergency meeting following the violence.

He also asked the speaker to recall parliament, his office said in a statement.

The US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, urged people to protest peacefully and called on the police to give protesters space – as she warned, “chaos and force will not fix the economy”.

Sri Lanka, home to 22 million people, is facing its worst economic crisis in seven decades since independence in 1948.

Inflation hit a record 54.6% in June and is expected to rise to 70%, putting more pressure on the cash-strapped population.

Protesters storm the presidential palace in Sri Lanka.  Photo: Cutting news
Protesters at the presidential palace. Photo: Cutting news
Protesters are pictured in the garden of the President's house in Colombo.  Photo: Reuters
The garden near the president’s residence was flooded. Photo: Reuters
People broke into President Gathabai Rajapaksa's residence to protest the economic crisis.  Photo: Reuters
Residence of the president. Photo: Reuters

The country is struggling with a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited key imports of fuel, food and medicine.

Many blame the decline on Mr. Rajapaksa, who is constantly being called to resign.

Protester Sampat Perera, 37, criticized the president for “clinging to power” and warned: “We will not stop until he listens to us.”

Crowds gathered outside the president's office in Colombo.  Photo: AP
Crowds gathered outside the president’s office in Colombo. Photo: AP
A tear gas shell fired by the police hits a crowd of protesters in Colombo.  Photo: AP
A tear gas shell fired by the police hits the crowd. Photo: AP
Sri Lankan authorities attempt to disperse protesters in Colombo on Saturday, July 9.  Photo: AP
The authorities are trying to disperse the demonstrators in Colombo. Photo: AP

Anger has grown in recent weeks as fuel supplies have been cut, leading to petrol and diesel being rationed for essential services.

The British Foreign Office has warned against any trips to the country other than essentialwhich found itself in financial turmoil due to economic mismanagement and the impact of the pandemic.

In April of this year, Sri Lanka announced that it was suspending the payment of foreign loans, blaming the shortage of foreign currency.

A man covers his face after tear gas was used in the Sri Lankan capital.  Photo: AP
A man covers his face after being tear gassed in Colombo. Photo: AP
Protesters put on gas masks after being fired with tear gas.  Photo: AP
Protesters came prepared in masks. Photo: AP

It has accumulated debts of £42.4bn, of which around half, £23.3bn, is due to be repaid by the end of 2027.

The crisis has seriously damaged the reputation of the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled the country for most of the past two decades.

Mr Rajapaksa has been in power since his brother stepped down as prime minister in May, and two other brothers and a nephew left their cabinet posts earlier this year.

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