Live: Protesters storm Sri Lankan PM’s office after president flees

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Protesters in Sri Lanka defied tear gas, water cannon and a state of emergency to storm the prime minister’s office on Wednesday after the president fled overseas, with the crowd demanding both men step down in the face of an economic crisis. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time, GMT+2.

​​​​​​3:05pm: Rajapaksa faces protests in Maldives hours after landing

Escaping Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faced protests in the Maldives hours after landing in the Indian Ocean island nation with demonstrators urging the Maldives government not to provide him safe heaven.

Sri Lankan expatriates carrying flags and placards denounced Rajapaksa, who fled his country early Wednesday after protesters overran his Colombo residence at the weekend over the worsening economic crisis in the South Asian nation.

“Dear Maldivian friends, please urge your government not to safeguard criminals,” said a black and white banner held by Sri Lankans working in the islands’ tiny capital.

Local reports suggested that Rajapaksa was staying at an exclusive resort and would leave for either the United Arab Emirates or Singapore later Wednesday.

2:01pm: Sri Lanka defence chief says military, police will respect constitution 

Sri Lanka’s defence chief, General Shavendra Silva has said the armed forces and police will respect the constitution, and called for calm after President Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives.

“We have requested political leaders to decide the way forward till a new president is sworn in and notify us and the public by this evening,” Silva said.

8:30am: Sri Lankan PM declares state of emergency

Before leaving Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president since he is out of the country, according to the Parliament speaker. Rajapaksa has yet to resign, but Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said the president assured him he would later in the day.

But Wickremesinghe has said he would only leave once a new government was in place.

Amid the chaos, Wickremesinghe, whose whereabouts were not known, declared a nationwide state of emergency, and state television stopped broadcasting, but it was not clear why.

Protesters continued to stream into the presidential palace early Wednesday, joining other who have flocked to the presidential palace almost as if it were a tourist attraction.

Protesters still camped outside Sri Lankan presidential palace

At dawn, the protesters took a break from chanting as the Sri Lankan national anthem blared from speakers. A few waved the flag.

Malik D’ Silva, a 25-year-old demonstrator occupying the president’s office, said Rajapaksa “ruined this country and stole our money.” He said he voted for Rajapaksa in 2019 believing his military background would keep the country safe after Islamic State-inspired bomb attacks earlier that year killed more than 260 people.

Nearby, 28-year-old Sithara Sedaraliyanage and her 49-year-old mother wore black banners around their foreheads that read “Gota Go Home,” the rallying cry of the demonstrations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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