COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Hundreds of protesters marched past Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office on Wednesday morning to demand that he resign, after demonstrations were reinforced overnight by crowds of people pouring into the capital Colombo from all over Sri Lanka.
“We don’t want the robber Ranil, the bank thief, the deal thief!” the crowd chanted. Among the protesters were families with young children, many of whom left the president’s office.
Near the prime minister’s office, security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters, but they did not flinch and joined another group. Riot police, Air Force and Army troops, many with gas masks and rifles in hand, stood nearby without interfering with the crowd.
Earlier in the day, outside the president’s office, the atmosphere was generally peaceful, with an air of celebration. People processed the news that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had fled to the neighboring Maldives.
“The thieves are running away,” said Sanjayra Perera, a university librarian who was among the thousands who had traveled to Colombo. She had taken her two children, 12 and 10, by train from the western town of Gampaha on Wednesday morning.
She said she wanted her family to be in the capital when the Rajapaksa dynasty fell.
“This is our country,” she said. “We win.”
The crowd found shady spots under statues, sat on the wall of an oceanfront park and waited in line, with umbrellas to block out the sun, for a chance to see the historic office building, one of three government buildings that protesters used to visit. had taken last weekend.
Despite the uncertainty as to whether Mr Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday, as the Speaker of Parliament has said and who would replace him, protesters cheered with confidence that the end of an era was near.
“This is a historic day for us,” said Randika Sandaruwan, 26, who took a train Tuesday evening with nine friends from the nearby town of Negombo. “We had to kick our president out, and now Gota is gone,” he said, using a nickname for the president.
Mr Sandaruwan and his friends, like many protesters, had nothing to protect them from the tear gas.
Shameen Opanayake, 22, sat on the doorstep with his mother and two sisters. They had taken an early bus from their home in Kalutara, south of the capital.
“If he doesn’t step down today,” he said, referring to the president, “I don’t think it will be quiet here. The whole country rejects him.”