Sri Lankan protesters vow to keep occupying presidential palace until leaders step down

ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith reports on the historic protests in Sri Lanka, with the president being blamed for the country's economic mismanagement

Protesters in Sri Lanka have said they will remain in the presidential palace until the leaders of their country leave their offices completely.

Huge crowds of protesters stormed the palace and several other government buildings, including the prime minister's residence, on Saturday as fury over the current crisis engulfing the country reached its peak.

Protests have rocked Sri Lanka for the last three months as the country faces its worst economic crisis in decades, as soaring inflation and a collapsing currency have left the country in desperate need of fuel, food and medicine.

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said he will step down on July 13, according to the parliament's speaker, but protesters remained sceptical about the promise and vowed to continue occupying the official buildings until the leaders have left office.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also said he would step down after Saturday's protests during which his official residence was set on fire.

Protests have been going on for weeks. Credit: AP

A group of nine Cabinet ministers said on Monday that they will quit immediately to make way for an all-party government, outgoing Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe said.

Lawmaker Udaya Gammanpila said the main opposition United People’s Front and lawmakers who have defected Mr Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition have agreed to work together.

Main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa and Dullas Alahapperuma, who was a minister under Mr Rajapaksa, have been proposed to take over as president and prime minister.

They had been asked to decide on how to share the positions before a meeting with the parliamentary speaker on Monday, but they did not reach an agreement.

Sri Lanka's main opposition party leader Sajith Premadasa. Credit: AP

“We can’t be in an anarchical condition. We have to somehow reach a consensus today,” Mr Gammanpila said.

Despite a heavy police presence all officers could do was watch from afar over the weekend as protesters splashed in swimming pools and took selfies in the luxurious residences and gardens they were occupying.

ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith, who is in the capital Colombo, said on Monday the protests had calmed down and now people were forming orderly queues to spend time in the government buildings.

He said ice cream was on sale and entire families were now visiting.

He added the "army are still outside holding guns but nobody is scared anymore."

What do the protestors want the opposition parties to do? Peter Smith reports

Since Saturday's protests, hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans have joined the protesters at the official buildings to show their support and share their anger about a deepening economic crisis they blame on their leaders.

Supun Nanadlal, a protester, said: "I don't see any difficult time for them. So huge laundry areas, huge dining areas, so they have gas, so they have electricity, so everything they have.

"So I feel that this is the moment has to be changed."

The army and police have been unable to stop protesters. Credit: AP

The protests have galvanised ordinary Sri Lankans to lend their support in the bid to topple the current government.

Despite the president and prime minister promising to resign, some protesters said they worry the leaders might attempt to cling on to power.

"I don't think at this point they will attempt that. If they attempt something like that, people will come in bigger numbers, bigger forces and the democracy will prevail," said Suchit Abewikrama, a protester.

Opposition parties are now meeting to try and form a new government, which is expected to include defectors who have broken away from Rajapaksa's party.

Soldiers and police have been deployed around Colombo and officials have called for protesters to maintain law and order.