Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Flees as Protesters Storm His Home

The president of Sri Lanka has reportedly fled his official residence in the country's commercial capital as protesters surrounded the building and later entered the premises on Saturday.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his residence in Colombo, a defense source told the AFP News Agency, while protesters stormed the building shortly afterwards.

However, there is some confusion about whether Rajapaksa fled on Saturday or earlier. Two defense sources have said that he was removed from the residence on Friday ahead of a planned rally this weekend, according to The Guardian.

The protests have been prompted by a major economic crisis in Sri Lanka that has seen citizens struggle to obtain everyday essentials including food, fuel and medicine.

The president's apparent decision to flee comes just days after Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the country was "bankrupt" and the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had failed.

Wickremesinghe has reportedly called an emergency party leaders meeting on Saturday amid the ongoing protests.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Colombo and some of those who stormed Rajapaksa's residence were carrying the country's flag as well as helmets. Footage from a Facebook live stream shows hundreds of protesters inside the president's residence.

Police deployed tear gas and fired shots into the air but were unable to prevent the protesters from surrounding the presidential home, according to a witness who spoke to Reuters.

Geeta Mohan, foreign affairs editor with India Today, cited reports on Saturday that members of parliament from the president's own party have signed a letter calling on Rajapaksa to resign and for an all party government to be formed under a new prime minister.

There have been largely peaceful protests in Sri Lanka calling for Rajapaksa to resign since March but those calls appear to have been intensified by a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited imports of food, fuel and medicine.

Many blame the president for the economic crisis facing the country, where inflation is expected to reach 60 percent by the end of the year.

People have had to queue for fuel for hours in Colombo and there have been some clashes with police and the military while they've waited. Schools have also been closed due to fuel rationing.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe told lawmakers on Tuesday that talks with the IMF had "collapsed."

"We are now participating in the negotiations as a bankrupt country. Therefore, we have to face a more difficult and complicated situation than previous negotiations," Wickremesinghe told the country's parliament.

Newsweek has asked the government of Sri Lanka for comment.

Update 07/09/22 05.50a.m. E.T.: This article was updated to include more information.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa Speaks at the COP26 Summit
Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presents his national statement during day two of COP26 at SECC on November 1, 2021 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. 2021 sees the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. Rajapaksa has reportedly fled his residence in Sri Lanka's commercial capital. Andy Buchanan - Pool/Getty Images