Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has fled his official residence in Colombo minutes before it was stormed by thousands of angry protesters, a defense source said.

The private network Sirasa TV showed images of the crowd breaking into the presidential palace, until now jealously guarded. According to the defense source, Rajapaksa was still president of the country and was in a secret place protected by the army. “The president has been escorted to safety,” the source said.

Tens of thousands of people previously participated in a demonstration calling for the resignation of Rajapaksa, who is considered responsible for the crisis plaguing the country.

Thousands of people gathered this Saturday in Colombo, many of whom arrived from other parts of the island country, to mark the third month of continuous protests to demand the resignation of Rajapaksa for his management of the economic crisis.

“We want a change, we want this president to go,” Lakmal Perera, a private sector worker who was among the hundreds of protesters who were near the Galle Face Green park, epicenter of the protests in Colombo, told Efe.

“Gotabaya is crazy”, “Gotabaya is afraid” or “Gotabaya go home” were some of the slogans chanted today in the capital by the protesters.

Given the chaotic situation, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called an emergency meeting with the leaders of the country’s political parties, and also requested the convening of Parliament, his office said in a statement.

The authorities last night imposed a curfew in several parts of the Western Province, where the capital is located, after a protest march organized by university students, although the restrictions were lifted this morning after being harshly criticized.

The Sri Lanka Bar Association said in a statement that the curfew “was clearly aimed at silencing freedom of expression and dissent.”

The director of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Rohini Marasinghe, stated in another statement that he was “alarmed” by the orders given to the country’s Army to prepare the troops to maintain order in the streets.

Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis since its independence and is suffering from fuel, food and medicine shortages due to lack of foreign exchange, coupled with runaway inflation.

This island country of 22 million people, located to the south of India, has suffered months of power cuts, long lines waiting to buy fuel and record inflation, which has generated frequent demonstrations and mass riots. The Government declared a moratorium on its external debt for 51,000 million dollars.

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