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“Do whatever needed to restore order,” Lanka PM tells military

Colombo: Protesters in Sri Lanka defied tear gas, water cannon and a state of emergency to storm the Prime Minister’s office on Wednesday after the President fled overseas, with the crowd demanding both men step down in the face of an economic crisis.

Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency today as massive protests engulfed Colombo after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew to the Maldives. An indefinite curfew has been imposed across the Western Province, including Colombo, to contain the escalating protests.

Tear gas shells were fired as thousands of people mobbed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office, took over his residence and pushed against the gates of the Lankan parliament.

In a televised statement, the Prime Minister said he had instructed the military and police to do “what is necessary to restore order”. The demonstrators “want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president”, he said, adding, “We can’t allow fascists to take over.”

Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will send his resignation later in the day as promised. He also said that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has been appointed as the acting President of the country.

Sri Lanka’s state-run TV network, Rupavahini Corporation, briefly suspended its telecast after protesters entered the TV station. The channel resumed the broadcast later.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had promised at the weekend to resign on Wednesday and clear the way for a “peaceful transition of power” after fleeing his official residence in Colombo just before protesters broke into it.

Mr Wickremesinghe too has said he will step down once an all-party government is ready to take over. Sri Lanka’s political parties have stepped up efforts to form an all-party government and elect a new President on July 20.

Defence officials of the island nation have told that Mr Rajapaksa requested a plane last night and insisted they were “obligated” to provide him with one. As President, Mr Rajapaksa continues to be the supreme commander of the defence forces.

On their arrival in the Maldives, President Rajapaksa, his wife and bodyguards were driven to an undisclosed location under police escort, an airport official in Male said. Reports claim the President’s younger brother and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa has also left the country.

The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka today dismissed reports claiming that India had helped President Rajapaksa and his brother Basil flee.