Sri Lanka: New leadership quells protests using 'fear factor' tactics

ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith reports on the aftermath of Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigning as president of Sri Lanka a day after fleeing mass protests

Colombo is now under curfew.

The fervour of revolution is fading and an eerie quiet has swept over the city.

Streets that held crowds of thousands are now empty.

Sri Lanka is a country with new leadership and a new plan for crushing the protesters that have ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is now acting president and immediately authorised the military to use greater force to clear the government buildings that were occupied.

He has also sent armoured vehicles out onto the streets as a show of strength.

It is a change of tactics, and the fear factor appears to be working so far.

Protesters stormed Ranil Wickremesinghe's office on Wednesday. Credit: AP

Those who had been occupying the Presidential Palace since Saturday decided it was best to heed the warning and go home voluntarily.

But at the Prime Minister’s office - the scene of so much violence yesterday as round after round of tear gas was fired - we witnessed protest leaders in disagreement.

A hardcore few wanted to stay on and defend the ground they’ve gained.

But many are just exhausted and think they have no choice.

“We don’t want to lose our lives,” Dhaniz Ali, one of the protest co-leaders told us.

“The government is trying to portray us as terrorists now."

The protesters fought so hard to gain this ground, though, and the decision to give it up is in part because they don’t quite know what to do with their momentum.

Sri Lanka’s anti-government movement is not one homogenous group vying to take power.

Watch ITV News' dispatch capturing the moment protesters stormed the offices of the country's prime minister and were fired with round after round of tear gas

Among the thousands, I’ve met committed communists, wealthy student doctors, and youth leaders from political parties.

Some within the movement would undoubtedly like to use it to their own advantage and take over the country, but most are frustrated citizens who just want a new government that is competent enough to keep the lights on.

Sri Lanka is running out of fuel, but with no money left to buy new supplies it is the people who have to go without.

No cooking gas means living off of bread. No petrol means not getting to work and having no income.

We have seen inside Sri Lanka’s only specialist cancer hospital where they are running low on chemotherapy drugs and appealing for donations.

Not even the rich can escape forced daily power cuts, and the country’s schools have been closed.

Army soldiers stand guard at the prime minister's office building in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Credit: AP

Our ITV News team in Sri Lanka has witnessed what happens when people are pushed to the brink like this.

There is anger and it gets taken out on politicians.

Other countries will be paying close attention because the cost of living crisis and spiralling inflation is a global problem so this crisis of shortages likely won’t be the last.

For the time being, the people who ousted a President are returning to their homes.

The hardship that drove them to the streets by the thousand in this bankrupt country is still here.

And as long as Sri Lankan politicians devise ways to cling on to power, their people will continue to suffer.

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