COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Hundreds of protesters besieged Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office on Wednesday morning demanding his resignation, after overnight protests were reinforced by crowds of people from across Sri Lanka who flocked to the capital, Colombo.
“We don’t want Ranil the bandit, the bank robber, the deal thief!” The crowd chanted. The marchers included families with young children, many leaving the presidential office.
Near the prime minister’s office, security forces fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, but they remained unmoved and huddled with another group. Riot police officers, many wearing gas masks and carrying rifles, along with air force and army personnel, stood by without engaging the crowd.
Earlier in the day, the normally calm atmosphere outside the President’s office was tinged with celebration. People were digesting the news that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had fled to the neighboring Maldives.
“Thieves are on the run,” said university librarian Sanjaira Perera, one of the thousands who traveled to Colombo. She brought her two children, aged 12 and 10, from the western city of Gampaha by train on Wednesday morning.
He said he wanted his family to be in the capital when the Rajapaksa dynasty fell.
“This is our country,” he said. “We’re winning.”
People saw shadows cast beneath statues, sat on the walls of Seaside Park, and waited in line holding umbrellas to block the sun, for a chance to see the historic office building, one of three government buildings seized by protesters last weekend.
As the Speaker of Parliament said, Mr. Despite uncertainty over whether Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday and who would replace him, protesters rejoiced in the hope that the end of an era was near.
“It’s a historic day for us,” said 26-year-old Randika Chandaruvan, who traveled by train from nearby Negombo with nine friends on Tuesday night. “We had to kick out our president and now Kota is gone,” he said, using a nickname for the president.
Mr. Sandaruvan and his friends, like many protesters, had nothing to protect them from the teargas.
Shameen Opanayake, 22, was sitting on the front steps with her mother and two sisters. They had taken an early morning bus from their home in Kalutara, south of the capital.
“If he didn’t step down today,” he said of the president, “I don’t think this place would be quiet. The whole country rejects him.