What has happened in Sri Lanka? Protests explained as prime minister’s residence is set on fire

Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister have offered to resign

Protesters stormed the presidential palace in Sri Lanka over the weekend.

The country has faced months of political turmoil in 2022 due to a series of crisises.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced on Tuesday (5 July) that the country was “bankrupt”.

Protests have been taking place in Sri Lanka since March.

The main target of the protests has been President Gotabaya Rajapaksa due to his mishandling of the economy.

Here is all you need to know.

Why are people protesting in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is in the middle of an extreme economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government has been blamed for mismanaging the economy.

Due to the crisis, there has been severe inflation, daily blackouts and a fuel shortage.

There are also shortages of other essential items.

The protests originally began with candlelight vigils in early March of this year.

Since that time they have spread across the country and attracted a wide range of protestors.

The country is relying on aid from India and other nations as leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Mr Wickremesinghe said recently that negotiations with the IMF were complex because Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt state.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending repayment of foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage.

People crowd inside the premises of Sri Lanka's presidential palace, in Colombo on July 10, 2022, a day after it was overrun by anti-government protestors. - Sri Lanka's colonial-era presidential palace has embodied state authority for more than 200 years, but on July 10 it was the island's new symbol of "people power" after its occupant fled. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP) (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

What is life in Sri Lanka like right now?

BBC reports that in cities in Sri Lanka “fuel queues curl around entire suburbs”, with people bringing pillows, changes of clothes and water with them when they queue.

Meat is three times the price it was and the once staple dhal has become a luxury item.

Boats are unable to go out into sea and catch fish as there is no diesel.

The UN is warning of malnutrition and a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka.

Power cuts and blackouts run late into the night, disrupting sleep

The BBC’s Andrew Fidel Fernando in the capital city of Colombo writes: “In Sri Lanka right now, before you’ve woken up, you’re losing.

“There are long days to be lived; work days, errands to be run, daily essentials to be bought at twice the price they had been last month.

“All this, you’re starting a little more broken than you were last week.”

Has the President and Prime Minister resigned?

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have now offered to resign.

It comes in the wake of the ever growing protests.

Opposition political parties are said to be meeting to agree on a new government.

Mr Wickremesinghe said on Saturday (9 July) that he will leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of parliament said Mr Rajapaksa will step down on Wednesday.

Pressure on both men has grown as the economic meltdown set off acute shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to obtain food, fuel and other necessities.

If both president and prime minister resign, speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as temporary president, according to the constitution.

Why did protestors storm the palace in Sri Lanka?

Protesters who stormed the president’s official residence, his office and the prime minister’s official residence on Saturday spent the night there, saying they will stay until the leaders officially resign.

Thousands of protesters entered the capital Colombo on Saturday and swarmed into Mr Rajapaksa’s fortified residence. Video and pictures showed jubilant crowds splashing in the garden pool, lying on beds and using their phone cameras to capture the moment.

Some made tea or used the gym while others issued statements from a conference room demanding that the president and prime minister go.

Protesters later broke into the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire, Mr Wickremesinghe’s office said. It was not clear if he was there at the time.

Where is Sri Lanka’s president?

It was not clear if Mr Rajapaksa was there at the time when protesters stormed the presidental palace and government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said he had no information about the president’s movements.

Even though both Mr Wickremesinghe and Mr Abeywardena said in their speeches that they had spoken with the president, they did not say anything about his whereabouts.

Months of demonstrations have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption.

The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base.