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Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa Leaves Presidential Home as Anger Rises

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Protesters demanding the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa breached security barricades and entered his official residence, braving tear gas and water cannons forcing the leader to leave his compound.

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Rajapaksa left his official residence at about 10:00 a.m. this morning, his secretary Gamini Senarath said over the phone, adding that he could not contact the leader currently and didn’t know his whereabouts. Earlier, French news agency Agence France-Presse cited an unidentified defense official as saying that Rajapaksa was escorted to safety away from the compound.

Civil-rights activists, religious leaders and artists were among thousands from across the South Asian island who gathered Saturday at an oceanfront protest site near the presidential residence in the capital, Colombo.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called an emergency meeting of party leaders to discuss the current situation, a text message from his office said.

Ahead of the protest, Omalpe Sobitha, a senior Buddhist monk at one of the main monastic orders and an outspoken critic of the government, told reporters the crisis is not the result of famine or natural disaster but mis-governance.

Sri Lanka is in the worst tailspin of its independent history, with inflation seen hitting 70%. It has been facing shortages of everything from fuel to medicine for months, prompting protests that led to the resignations of all the Rajapaksa family members who were in the government, except for the president.

Gotabaya has side-stepped demands for his resignation and appointed long-time opponent Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May after the largely peaceful protests turned violent.

Late on Friday, police imposed a curfew in and around parts of Colombo after thousands of university students, who had marched toward Rajapaksa’s residence, were tear-gassed. Police Chief C.D. Wickramaratne -- who told a briefing this week that authorities wouldn’t stop any peaceful rallies -- said in a statement on Saturday that the curfew would be lifted by 8:00 a.m.

Video footage from local news channels showed some protesters scuffling with police as they fired tear gas shells.

Sri Lanka’s Bar Association and opposition parties also said the lockdown was illegal, and called upon protesters to continue with plans to rally peacefully. Earlier this week, a Colombo court rejected a government request to bar the protesters from being in close proximity to the president’s official residence.

Economic activity has come to a grinding halt, with residents urged to stay home until July 10 to save fuel. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka on Thursday raised borrowing costs by 100 basis points as prices continued their record rise in June, driven by the shortages and dwindling foreign-exchange reserves.

(Updates with president’s secretary saying he’s left the compound)

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