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Protesters swim in palace pool as Gotabaya flees; PM house set on fire

The protesters seized the palace on Saturday while President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled. PM Wickremesinghe has resigned, but his house was set ablaze. The SLFP has called for a national Government of all parties.

COLOMBO, July 9: Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his residence in Colombo as protesters broke the barricades, barged into the President's palace that houses his office and residence and seized control of the premises on Saturday, defying firing and teargas by security men. Several people were injured.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resigned but his private residence was set on fire by the protesters, AFP reported.

The protesters had come in thousands by trains and buses from across the country. Several military personnel have also joined them.

Videos in circulation in social media depict a number of protesters swimming in the palace pool while others emptying out the foods and drinks in the chests of drawers in the kitchen and dining hall.

The President's whereabouts are not known. Some say a Presidential convoy was seen moving to the airport in the wee hours. There are also videos of some people carrying three large suitcases and hurrying to two Lankan naval ships - SLNS Gajabahu and Sindulara - and boarding.

Before resigning, Wickremesinghe had asked the Speaker to convene an urgent session of parliament to help solve the problem and bring peace to the island even as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) called for a national Government of all parties.

It is also suspected that the Opposition is behind the sudden nation-wide protest rallies.

The island has been facing acute food, fuel and medicines shortage for several months as imports have stopped for want of foreign exchange. The country depends on imports for essential items. The Government is deep in debt. It owes huge amounts to international agencies. Tourism, the only mainstay, dried up during the long spell of covid pandemic.

The protesters had announced earlier that they would hold countrywide agitations on Saturday. The island is facing the worst financial turmoil in seven decades of its independence.

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