Sri Lanka protesters in talks to end occupation

·2-min read

Sri Lanka's anti-government demonstrators were in talks Thursday to hand back official buildings they seized, protest representatives said, even as they insisted the president and prime minister both quit in the face of an economic crisis.

Protesters overran President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's palace at the weekend, forcing him to flee to the Maldives on Wednesday, when activists also stormed the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The premier, whom Rajapaksa named as acting president in his absence, has demanded the evacuation of state buildings and instructed security forces to do "what is necessary to restore order".

A top Buddhist monk supporting the campaign called for the more than 200-years-old presidential palace to be handed back to authorities and ensure its valuable art and artefacts were preserved.

"This building is a national treasure and it should be protected," monk Omalpe Sobitha told reporters. "There must be a proper audit and the property given back to the state."

Hundreds of thousands have visited the compound since it was opened out to the public after Rajapaksa fled and his security guards backed down.

"There is a move to return the buildings back to the authorities," an activist involved in the #GotaGoHome campaign told AFP.

In a televised address after thousands of people captured his office in Colombo, Wickremesinghe declared: "Those who go to my office want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president.

"We can't allow fascists to take over. That is why I declared a nationwide emergency and a curfew," he added.

The curfew was lifted at dawn on Thursday, but police said a soldier and a constable were injured in overnight clashes with protesters outside the national parliament.

The attempt on the legislature was beaten back, unlike at other locations where the protesters had spectacular success.

The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were admitted with injuries on Wednesday, with one man suffocating and dying after a tear gas attack at the premier's office.

Rajapaksa had promised to resign on Wednesday, but there was no announcement he had done so.

He remained in the Maldives, reportedly awaiting a private jet to take him, his wife Ioma and two bodyguards to Singapore.

Diplomatic sources said Rajapaksa's attempts to secure a visa to the United States had been turned down because he had renounced his US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.

aj/slb/je

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