Press Trust of india

Hundreds of anti-govt protesters break into Sri Lankan President’s official residence

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Reports say unknown people on board two Navy ships that left Colombo port

Colombo: Embattled Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s whereabouts was not known after he was moved out of his residence on Friday ahead of Saturday’s protests during which thousands of irate anti-government protesters stormed into his official residence in Colombo.

Rajapaksa, who was facing calls for resignation since March, was using the President’s House as his residence and office since protesters came to occupy the entrance to his office early April.

According to sources, the President had been moved out of his residence on Friday, in anticipation of Saturday’s protests. His whereabouts was unknown as protesters have now occupied both his office and official residence.

Reports have surfaced that luggage was rushed on to the Sri Lanka Navy Ship Gajabahu anchored at the Colombo Port, News 1st channel reported on Saturday.

“The Harbour Master at the Colombo Port said that a group boarded the SLNS Sindurala and SLNS Gajabahu and left the port,” it added.

He said he cannot provide details of the manifest or about those who boarded the vessels, the channel said.

Earlier, a viral video on social media showed a VIP motorcade reaching the Colombo international airport where a SriLanka Airlines aircraft was parked.

At least 30 people, including two policemen, were injured in clashes between security personnel and protesters – some of them holding Sri Lankan flags and helmets – who had gathered in large numbers in the Fort area, demanding President Rajapaksa’s resignation.

Protesters who climbed the walls of the President’s House are now occupying it without damaging any property or indulging in acts of violence.

Video footage from inside the building showed hundreds of protesters packing into rooms and corridors, while hundreds also milled around the grounds outside.

Some video clips showed scores of people taking a dip in the presidential palace pool.

A group of his own parliamentarians have addressed a letter to President Rajapaksa, urging him to step down and appoint a new Prime Minister and an all-party government.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday urged the country’s military and police to allow peaceful protests.

“Violence is not an answer… Chaos & force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,” she tweeted.

Political and economic instability could potentially derail Sri Lanka’s much-awaited USD 3 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), warned analysts.

Last week, Wickremesinghe announced in Parliament that Sri Lanka would present a debt restructuring programme to the IMF by August to secure a bailout package while underlining that the negotiations with the global lender were more complex and difficult than in the past because the country was “bankrupt”.

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.

Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

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