Protesters storm Sri Lanka’s president’s home, clash with cops amid economic frustrations

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Thousands of protesters in Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, broke through police barricades and stormed the home of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday as part of an anti-government protest sparked by the collapse economy of the country.

Some protesters carried Sri Lankan flags and helmets as they broke into the president’s residence, according to video footage from local television station NewsFirst.

The country, made up of around 22 million people, suffers from a severe shortage of foreign exchange, which has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. This shortage has plunged the island into its worst financial situation for 70 years.

Rajapaksa has been blamed by many for the country’s economic decline. Demonstrations have taken place since March in which demonstrators demanded the president’s resignation. Saturday’s protest is believed to be one of the biggest anti-government marches this year.

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Protesters attempt to remove a tear gas shell after it was fired by police to disperse them in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lankan protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa protested forced into his official residence on Saturday, local television reported, as thousands took to the streets of the capital to denounce the island nation’s worst economic crisis in recent memory. (AP Photo/Amitha Thennakoon)

According to a witness, thousands of protesters forced their way into Colombo’s government district, breaking through several police barricades before reaching Rajapaksa’s residence.

Police fired shots in the air but failed to stop protesters from surrounding the president’s house, the witness said.

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Police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lankan protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa broke into his official residence on Saturday , according to a local television report, as thousands took to the streets of the capital to denounce the island nation's worst economic crisis in recent memory.  (AP Photo/Amitha Thennakoon)

Police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lankan protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa broke into his official residence on Saturday , according to a local television report, as thousands took to the streets of the capital to denounce the island nation’s worst economic crisis in recent memory. (AP Photo/Amitha Thennakoon)

A severe fuel shortage on the Asian island has brought transport services to a standstill, but protesters have still boarded buses, trains and trucks from different parts of the country to reach Colombo to protest the government’s economic failures.

In recent weeks, the impoverished country has stopped receiving fuel deliveries, forcing schools to close and limiting petrol and diesel for services deemed essential.

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A man throws back a tear gas shell after it was fired by police to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lankan protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa forced their way into his official residence on Saturday, a local television report said, as thousands took to the streets of the capital to denounce the island nation's worst economic crisis in recent memory.  (AP Photo/Amitha Thennakoon)

A man throws back a tear gas shell after it was fired by police to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lankan protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa forced their way into his official residence on Saturday, a local television report said, as thousands took to the streets of the capital to denounce the island nation’s worst economic crisis in recent memory. (AP Photo/Amitha Thennakoon)

The country has been hit by massive fuel shortages and high levels of inflation. Inflation in Sri Lanka reached 54.6% in June.

Political instability could hurt Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund, from which they are asking for a $3 billion bailout, restructuring of some external debt and fundraising from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the burden of worsening dollar shortages.

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Reuters contributed to this report.

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