Thousands of Sri Lankan protesters storm the president’s official residence and swim in a swimming pool after crowds break through police barricades during an anti-government march

  • In Sri Lanka, thousands of demonstrators stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo
  • Public anger directed at President Gatabaya Rajapaksa has sparked numerous protests since March
  • Police fired tear gas and bullets into the air in an attempt to control the crowd, but they ran past them
  • The country is experiencing acute shortages of fuel, food and medicine due to a lack of foreign currency

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Sri Lanka is rocked by crisis as thousands of protesters storm the president’s home in the capital Colombo amid public anger over the government’s handling of the economic crisis.

A planned rally, one of the biggest anti-government marches in the crisis-hit country this year, turned violent when thousands of protesters stormed the presidential compound of Sri Lankan President Gathabai Rajapaksa.

Some protesters, carrying Sri Lankan flags and wearing helmets, stormed the presidential residence, footage from local television station NewsFirst showed.

Two defense ministry sources said President Gathabai Rajapaksa was removed from official quarters on Friday for his safety ahead of a planned weekend rally, with unconfirmed reports that he had fled the country.

The island of 22 million people is struggling with a severe foreign currency shortage that has limited key imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Many people blame President Gatabaya Rajapaksa for the decline of the country. The mostly peaceful protests since March demanded his resignation.

Thousands of people rushed into Colombo’s government district, shouting slogans against the president and breaking down several police barricades to reach Rajapaksa’s home, a witness told Reuters.

Police fired into the air but were unable to stop the angry crowd that surrounded the presidential residence, a witness said.

Angry protesters are gathering on the grounds of Sri Lanka’s presidential palace in Colombo

An angry protester speaks from the President's House after storming the palace along with thousands of others

An angry protester speaks from the President’s House after storming the palace along with thousands of others

Protesters stormed the palace and marched through the corridors chanting against President Gathabai Rajapaksa and even took a dip in his swimming pool

Protesters stormed the palace and marched through the corridors chanting against President Gathabai Rajapaksa and even took a dip in his swimming pool

Sri Lankan President Gathabai Rajapaksa is blamed for the economic crises that have engulfed the country under his leadership

Sri Lankan President Gathabai Rajapaksa is blamed for the economic crises that engulfed the country under his leadership

Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, today

Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, today

Protesters try to disperse and flee as a shell fired by police lands next to them

Protesters try to disperse and flee as a shell fired by police lands next to them

Protesters react to a tear gas canister: one puts on a gas mask while another prepares a blanket to suffocate her

Protesters react to a tear gas canister: one puts on a gas mask while another prepares a blanket to suffocate her

A protester throws a tear gas grenade at police officers, while police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters

A protester throws a tear gas grenade at police officers, while police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters

Police and law enforcement respond to a tear gas canister that landed near them

Police and law enforcement respond to a tear gas canister that landed near them

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called an emergency meeting of political party leaders in response.

Despite severe fuel shortages that have brought transport services to a standstill, protesters have boarded buses, trains and trucks from several parts of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s failure to protect them from economic collapse.

Discontent has worsened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country cut off fuel supplies, prompting school closures and rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services.

Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman, boarded an overcrowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo, 45 km (30 miles) north of Colombo, to join the protest.

“We have told Gota time and time again to go home, but he is still holding on to power. We will not stop until he listens to us,” Perera said.

He is among millions of people suffering from chronic fuel shortages and inflation, which reached 54.6% in June.

Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund, which calls for a $3 billion bailout, restructuring of some foreign debt and raising funds from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the dollar drought.

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