Protesters also attacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, setting fire to his private residence in Fifth Lane, an affluent neighborhood of the capital. Wickremesinghe later said that he was prepared to resign “to make way for an all-party government”.
Four other ministers resigned over the weekend.
Tourism and Lands Minister Harin Fernando, Labor and Overseas Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara, and Transport and Highways Minister and co-cabinet spokesperson Bandula Gunawardena resigned on Saturday, according to the ministers’ offices.
Investment Promotion Portfolio Minister Dhammika Perera told CNN that he resigned on Sunday.
The economic crisis has plunged the Indian Ocean island nation of 22 million into a dire humanitarian crisis, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine and fuel.
After months of largely peaceful protests, the anger came to a head on Saturday, when more than 100,000 people gathered outside Rajapaksa’s residence to call for his resignation.
A video broadcast on Sri Lankan television and social media showed protesters entering the President’s House, Rajapaksa’s office and residence, after breaking through security cordons. Footage shows protesters inside the whitewashed colonial-era building and hanging banners from the balcony.
Later on Saturday, live video broadcast by local media and seen by CNN showed Wickremesinghe’s house engulfed in flames as crowds gathered around it.
Neither the president nor the prime minister were in their residences when the buildings were invaded. Both had been moved to safe places before the attacks, according to security officials.
The drastic escalation of unrest on Saturday could spell the end of the political dynasty of the Rajapaksa family, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the last two decades.
In a video statement on Saturday night, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said Rajapaksa’s decision to resign “was taken to ensure a peaceful handover of power.”
But how that power transition will ultimately play out is shrouded in uncertainty.
If both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa resign, under Sri Lanka’s constitution, the speaker of parliament will serve as interim president for a maximum of 30 days. Meanwhile, parliament will elect a new president within 30 days from one of its members who will hold office for the remaining two years of the current term.
“Now, all parties must work together with the international community for a new government that respects the democratic and economic aspirations and upholds the human rights that the Sri Lankan people deserve,” the committee said.
“The military and the police must exercise restraint and be part of the solution, not part of the problem, in this crisis,” he added.
At least 55 people were injured in the protests, according to Dr. Pushpa Zoysa of the Sri Lanka National Hospital, who said the figure included three people with gunshot wounds. Among the injured was a lawmaker from eastern Sri Lanka, she added.
The Sri Lankan military on Sunday denied opening fire on protesters yesterday “to cause intentional harm”, in response to social media clips suggesting the army fired on protesters outside Rajapaksa’s residence.
“The Army categorically denies having opened fire on the protesters, but fired some shots into the air and at the side walls of the main entrance gate to the Presidential House compound as a dissuasive measure, with the aim of preventing the protesters from entering the enclosure,” he added. the statement said.
Meanwhile, two police officers associated with apparent attacks on the press have been suspended, according to an audio statement by Sri Lanka Police Inspector General CD Wickremaratne, which was broadcast on national television.
A Sri Lankan television station had said six of its journalists were attacked by the Sri Lanka Police Special Task Force outside the Prime Minister’s private residence.
Two of the journalists from Sri Lanka’s Newsfirst TV channel had their cameras rolling at the time. Video broadcast by Newsfirst shows two journalists being pushed to the ground by police during the standoff on Saturday night. Fellow journalists who rushed to his aid were also attacked, Newsfirst reported.
Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister, also condemned the attacks on the media.
“Media freedom is paramount to democracy in Sri Lanka,” he said, calling on both security forces and protesters to “act with restraint to prevent any violence and ensure public safety.”
Sri Lanka’s media freedom advocacy group, Free Media Movement, called for an investigation into the police attack on journalists, saying “the perpetrators responsible for these brutal attacks” must be brought to justice.