The unprecedented events in Colombo were the culmination of more than three months of protests by ordinary Sri Lankans against the government, and in particular President Gathabai Rajapaksa.

The secretariat of the country’s president, the heart of the government, was stormed by thousands of protesters. Many with national flags hanging on them ran up the steps to the iconic building.

The prime minister’s home was later set on fire by protesters hours after he announced he would resign. The president, under intense pressure to follow suit, did so around 11:00 p.m. local time.

Clashes between protesters and security forces took place in the capital Colombo since morning.

Undaunted by tear gas, police firing in the air and water cannons, protesters gathered to march on the president’s home to force him to resign. Many injuries were reported.

Their patience ran out as they argued with the military who tried to stop them.

With sheer numbers, momentum and determination, they made the final push and broke the multi-layered police barriers in their path.

They broke into the heavily fortified president’s house and walked freely through the gardens, corridors and many rooms of the building. As they moved around taking pictures and selfies, they signaled their president to go.

And few did not miss the opportunity to cool down by jumping into the pool of the most protected address in the country.

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Protesters swim in the presidential pool

Mr Rajapaksa had earlier been evacuated to an undisclosed location and there were reports that he had been transferred to a naval ship.

The Temple Tree, the official residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was also stormed.

At an emergency meeting, the prime minister agreed to resign and form an all-party government.

The lawyer, who did not want to be named, said: “At the moment, I believe that the people’s struggle is going on successfully. And I wish you all the best in the fight and in the end we will make a good change for our country.”

Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million is facing its worst economic crisis in history, which has driven up prices and caused shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

A deep-seated economic crisis has been ignored for decades by successive governments.

The reckless and failed economic policies of the Rajapaksa administration deepened the crisis.

Crowds gathered outside the president's office in Colombo.  Photo: AP
Crowds gathered outside the president’s office in Colombo. Photo: AP
Protesters at President Gathabai Rajapaksa's home in Colombo.  Photo: AP
Protesters at President Gataba Rajapaksa’s home in Colombo. Photo: AP

Tax cuts, severe import restrictions, and reluctance to implement sensible economic reforms revealed a structural flaw in the government’s economic policy.

In the face of a serious balance of payments crisis, international agencies have downgraded the country, further reducing any chance of foreign investment.

Protesters put on gas masks after being fired with tear gas.  Photo: AP
Protesters came prepared in masks. Photo: AP

Tourism brings in more than $4 billion a year, but the industry has been hit hard by the COVID pandemic.

In the short term, the government borrowed heavily, leaving the country in a debt trap.

The country is effectively bankrupt, having no foreign reserves to buy vital goods.

It has defaulted on $51 billion in foreign debt and is now negotiating with the International Monetary Fund to pay $3 billion.

However, the scale of the crisis is such that these loans may not be enough to get rid of the balance of payments problems in the near future, since the current deficit is gigantic.

But for now, ordinary Sri Lankans have to bear the brunt of the worst man-made disaster the country has witnessed.

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