Sri Lanka: Protester Takeover of Presidential Palace Turns into 4-Day House Party

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    Rajapaksa, the last Rajapaksa family member who still holds a top government post following months of protests, which forced many of his brothers and other relatives to leave cabinet posts, has agreed to resign from the presidency following the seizure of his house on Saturday. The president is expected to officially retire on Wednesday in order to allow the parliament of the country to establish an “all-party” unity government. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also agreed to retire this weekend after protesters burned his home down.

    Wickremesinghe became the prime minister the second time in May, following the resignation of his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was Gotabaya's younger brother, was forced to resign in the wake the protesters who burned his house down.

    The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is currently in the middle of the most severe economic downturn in its history as a result of the Rajapaksa dynasty's risky “green” policies like banning chemical fertilizers as well as taking out huge, risky loans as part the predatory Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The ban on fertilizers, in an effort to shift to 100 percent organic farming has led to Sri Lanka becoming dependent on imports for food that it could not purchase as it was running short of foreign money. In the past, attempts to transition away from fossil fuels has led to constant power outrages as well as severe gasoline as well as other oil and gas product shortages. Long lines of people waiting to purchase fuel has become an everyday occurrence all through the year.

    Socialist economic policy has led to a severe shortage of medicine, food, and almost every other essential item.

    “My children are suffering. They're suffering in every way. I'm not even able to afford an entire packet of milk or biscuits for my children,” a Sri Lankan mother related to the BBC in a piece that was published recently.

    Wickremesinghe, soon after being elected Prime Minister in May, declared that the whole economy was “completely collapsed.”

    On Tuesday, so many people from Sri Lanka had gathered at President Rajapaksa’s to illegally visit it that they had arranged into lines to make sure everyone was able to get in. The location of Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains unclear at the time of writing, even though government officials say that he hasn’t left Sri Lanka.

    “Many people across the country visited Colombo to see the President's House, the Temple trees House, and the President's Office, which were taken over by protesters,” Sri Lanka's News First reported. “People have been waiting in line for hours to enter the premises to see for the first time what was inside the most protected residence in the country.”

    News First described Temple Trees as “open for the public,” but did not provide any evidence that either Rajapaksa or the Sri Lankan government made the house public in any official manner. Temple Trees is the formal residence of the prime minister, but presidents have also used it before and Wickremesinghe wasn't thought to be living there.

    The palace's interior was captured in videos uploaded on The Daily Mirror national newspaper and showed an atmosphere of joy. On Monday, a large group of protesters had occupied Rajapaksa's music room and started singing.

    The day before the seizure of the official president and prime minister palaces, protesters seemed more focused on making use of the space rather than damaging it. Photos that surfaced during the event included people in the presidential shower, lying in bed and watching news footage of their occupation, and throwing a huge pool party, including presidential floaties.

    A hungry Sri Lankan population also feasted on the lavish meals the president’s kitchen was filled with.

    “The large kitchens and dining areas had various food options, including the best imported food. The bar offered a wide selection of single malts and demonstrators were enjoying the evening,” Janith Weerasingha, one of the protesters said to the Sydney Morning Herald. The Australian newspaper classified Weerasingha as a fishing entrepreneur.

    The U.K. Guardian has also revealed that a number of protesters set up an impromptu “community kitchen” and began making free meals using the food pantries in the government buildings that were taken over.

    The Herald reported that many of the protesters who left the area at night on Saturday returned on Sunday morning to pick up litter and try to bring some order in the area. A few protesters left handwritten posters around Temple Trees urging others not to demolish paintings and other valuable artifacts which are integral to the history of the nation. In a notable gesture of goodwill, protesters found 18 million Sri Lankan rupees (about $50,000) in cash and handed it over to police.

    “Outside, refuse from Saturday's mass gathering was picked up, the Galle Face promenade was scoured, and the raucous scenes witnessed both in Colombo and Galle—where Australia and Sri Lanka are into day three of a Test match—were replaced by an eerie calm,” the Herald reported.

    On Tuesday, the gathering seemed to have created enough stress and exhaustion that it sparked violence. Sri Lankan news agencies reported that at least 10 people were admitted to hospitals on Tuesday following a brawl that took place between two separate groups within the palace. The reports didn't provide details of what caused the dispute or who both sides fighting in the incident were.

    Police also announced the following day that staff of Temple Trees had filed complaints of massive theft and destruction of property, but authorities were unable to detail what was taken from the palace.

    Many government institutions and political leaders started calling for those who are occupying the presidential palace to leave. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) released a statement calling on tourists and protesters to return the presidential palace and Temple Trees in the hands of their legitimate owners.

    “The BASL unambiguously states that at this crucial moment in our country it is imperative to ensure that all citizens adhere to the Rule of Law and Constitutional Governance,” the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror reported. “It is not in the best interests of our country or its people to ignore the provisions of the Constitution which is the framework under which Sri Lanka is governed.”

    The renowned Buddhist head Omalpe Sobitha Thero similarly held a press conference Tuesday, requesting that people evacuate the government buildings, in light of Rajapaksa's decision to resign and that he should be gone by Wednesday. Thero appeared to say that protesters should be removed when Rajapaksa has left the office to ensure security of the historical structures.

    Sobitha Thero said that should the public fail to ensure the security of the properties that are at risk, “conspiracies that we do not even know about, might be orchestrated to destroy these important national properties.”

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