After 92 days of protesting outside the Presidential Secretariat, protesters supported by millions of citizens were able to storm President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Presidential Palace and office — a watershed moment in the peoples’ struggle that began earlier this year.
Thousands walked or hitchhiked to Colombo Fort, despite transport issues, where the protesters had attempted to occupy the high-security zones since 08 July. By mid-day, the protesters had managed to breach the gates and enter the Presidential Palace, despite being challenged by tear gas and water cannons deployed by the security forces.
Our reporters on the ground observed that the armed forces opened fire on multiple occasions to dispel the masses. Simultaneously, another group of protesters managed to enter the Presidential Secretariat, removing the iron fence around the premises as well as the Temple Trees, the prime minister’s office.
Soon after the three buildings were occupied by the protesters, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a party leaders’ meeting. Four critical decisions were reached at this meeting: for president and prime minister to resign immediately; the Speaker to act as president for a maximum of 30 days; Parliament to elect a parliamentarian as interim president for the remainder of the term, and appoint an all-party interim government.
In response, Wickremesinghe claimed that he is willing to resign, once an interim government is established to take over governance. Protesters displeased with the lack of clarity in his statement marched towards the PM’s residence in Colpetty in the evening. Here, the protesters were once again attacked with tear gas and water cannons on multiple occasions. The protest intensified following an attack by several Police Special Task Force personnel on a group of NewsFirst journalists.
The protests resulted in 105 persons being hospitalised, with no casualties reported. Protesters continue to occupy the three buildings, which are now freely accessible to the public.
The whereabouts of President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe remain unknown at the time of writing.