Sri Lankan president to resign after protests see home stormed and PM's residence set on fire

ITV News Reporter Ian Woods on the protests that have filled the streets of Sri Lanka's capital

Sri Lankan protesters forced their way into their president’s official residence on Saturday, demanding his resignation amid an economic crisis that has engulfed the country for months.

A spokesman said the group had set the prime minister's building on fire as unrest between police and the crowd intensified on Saturday night.

The whereabouts of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are unknown, with a government spokesperson saying he had no information as to whether the politician was inside the building when crowds stormed it.

A Sri Lankan Parliament speaker has now said President Rajapaksa has agreed to resign and would do so on Wednesday to ensure a smooth transfer of power.

Police fired tear gas at protesters ahead of the storming of the president's residence

Mobile phone footage showed crowds inside the well-fortified house in Colombo, swimming in the pool, and on the grounds outside.

Police had earlier fired tear gas at protesters who surrounded the premises as they moved toward the main gates.

At least 34 people including two police officers were wounded in scuffles as protesters tried to enter the residence. Two of the injured are in critical condition while others sustained minor injuries, an official at the Colombo National Hospital told the media anonymously.

The protesters eventually broke the barricades and entered the house.

Those marching through the streets tell ITV News why they're celebrating and demanding action is taken

Those taking to the streets blame Mr Rajapaksa for the economic woes in the country and have occupied the entrance to his office for three months.

The country's prime minister has already agreed to resign after party leaders in Parliament demanded both he and Mr Rajapaksa do so. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a voice statement that he will resign when all parties have agreed on a new government.

“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF. Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government,” he said.

Thousands have been carrying Sri Lankan flags through busy streets, riding on the relatively few vehicles on the roads due to an acute fuel shortage.

Others rode bicycles and many walked to protest sites in Colombo from the suburbs after police lifted an overnight curfew.

Mr Wickremesinghe said last month that the country's economy has collapsed.

The government's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund have been complex because it has now entered negotiations as a bankrupt state.

In April, Sri Lanka announced it is suspending repaying foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage.

Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Protesters stand on a vandalised police water canon truck and shout slogans at the entrance to president's official residence in Colombo. Credit: AP

Police imposed a curfew in Colombo and several other main urban areas on Friday night but withdrew it on Saturday morning amid objections by lawyers and opposition politicians who called it illegal.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday asked people to protest peacefully and called for the military and police “to grant peaceful protesters the space and security to do so.”

"Chaos & force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,” Ms Chung said in a tweet.

The economic crisis has led to a heavy shortage of essentials like fuel, cooking gas and medicines, forcing people to stand in long lines to buy the limited supplies.

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Months of protests have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

One of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned as prime minister in May, and two other brothers and a nephew quit their Cabinet posts earlier.

President Rajapaksa has held on to power up until this point.

Mr Wickremesinghe took over as prime minister in May and protests temporarily waned in the hope he could find cash for the country's urgent needs but people wanted him to resign saying he has failed to fulfil his promises.