Sri Lankans storm PM’s office, demanding he also resigns

COLOMBO, July 13 (Reuters) – Just hours after Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on Wednesday, hundreds of people were also demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fighting street battles with riot police .

“Ranil go home! they chanted as they attempted to storm Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office.

Police repeatedly fired tear gas and Wickremesinghe, who was acting as president in his absence, declared a national emergency and imposed a curfew in and around the city.

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The protesters see him as an ally of the Rajapaksa clan and want him out.

“We want Ranil to resign,” said S. Shashidharan, a 30-year-old man who said he was tear gassed outside the prime minister’s office. “Arrest everyone who helped Gota (the president) escape. We want our stolen money back.”

Unlike the street fighting at the Prime Minister’s office, hundreds of people lined up peacefully to visit the official residence in Gotabaya, a few kilometers (miles) away.

KK Subasinghe was among those waiting to enter the home of the once-feared ex-soldier, who boarded a Sri Lankan Air Force plane and fled to the Maldives early Wednesday morning, accompanied by his wife and two bodyguards.

After massive protests against his rule on July 9, Rajapaksa announced to the speaker of parliament that he would step down.

Subasinghe said he too served in the Sri Lankan military, fighting in the country’s bloody civil war against the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. The war ended in 2009, under then Defense Secretary Rajapaksa.

But Subasinghe said he had little admiration for Rajapaksa and brought his family and brother to show them the opulence of the presidential residence.

“I wanted to give them a taste of their (Rajapaksa) luxurious lifestyle,” said Subasinghe, dressed in a collared T-shirt and khaki pants, holding a green plastic bag.

“While we were suffering, they asked us to grow our own food and ride bicycles.”

Subasinghe said he expected massive celebrations when Rajapaksa finally stepped down, although there was still some apprehension among others in the queue that he would actually quit.

“We are going to celebrate this momentous day,” he said. “I think the protest will get stronger than July 9 if he doesn’t step down.”

Crowds surrounded the gardens surrounding the two-story colonial-era building, where some napped on the grass and others took selfies on their cellphones.

Volunteers guided groups past the president’s pool, where protesters had partied last week. A lone young man stood in the murky gray waters as they passed.

Inside the main building, Subasinghe and his family could only access a small part of the ground floor. The rest, including the bedroom and large halls, had been cordoned off by protest organizers.

Next to an adjoining building, a BMW 7 Series luxury sedan was parked, its gas cap forced open.

“I didn’t expect this kind of luxury,” said Subasinghe’s older brother, MD Chandradasa, as they finished their tour of the residence.

“It’s okay if you’re the head of state, but what about us poor people?”

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Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in Colombo; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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