Demonstrators celebrate after entering the President's House during a protest, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the country's economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka July 9, 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

During protests against the serious economic crisis in Sri Lanka, demonstrators stormed the official residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the capital Colombo. The head of state of the South Asian country had previously been brought to safety, the president’s office said on Saturday. At least 50 people were injured, a hospital spokesman said.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the city to demand the resignation of Rajapaksa and the government they blame for the crisis. Media estimated the number of demonstrators at around 100,000.

The police used tear gas and soldiers fired warning shots into the air, as was seen on television pictures. Nevertheless, numerous people managed to break through the barriers. About an hour after the presidential palace was stormed, demonstrators also entered the nearby presidential office, reports said.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced his willingness to resign amid the protests. This was announced by his office in the capital Colombo on Saturday. The Prime Minister informed the Speaker of Parliament that he was prepared to resign in favor of the formation of an all-party government. Wickremesinghe has only been in office since May, when his predecessor also resigned in the wake of the unrest.

The island state south of India with its approximately 22 million inhabitants is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades. One reason for this is that tourism, which is important for Sri Lanka, collapsed in the wake of the corona pandemic. The heavily indebted country lacks the money to import important goods such as fuel or medicines. There are regularly long queues in front of gas stations.

The government has asked the International Monetary Fund and several countries, such as India, China and Russia, for help. The UN Emergency Relief Office (OCHA) warned in June that the severe economic crisis could exacerbate a looming hunger crisis in Sri Lanka. The country had previously been on a good development path for ten years and did not need UN humanitarian aid.

On Friday, the government promised to improve fuel supplies. She also imposed an indefinite curfew. However, under pressure from civil rights groups, lawyers and Buddhist monks who support the demonstrations, she withdrew the measure. Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena called a meeting with party leaders to discuss the situation.