Protesters March In Sri Lanka After President Flees Country

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Hundreds of protesters marched past the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday morning to demand that he step down, after demonstrations were reinforced overnight by throngs of people arriving in the capital, Colombo, from across Sri Lanka.

“We don’t want the robber Ranil, the bank thief, the deal thief!” the crowd chanted. The marchers included families with young children, many having set off from the president’s office.

Near the prime minister’s office, security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters, but they would not budge and converged with another group. Riot police officers, along with air force and army forces, many wearing gas masks and holding rifles, stood nearby without engaging with the crowd.

Earlier in the day, outside the president’s office, the atmosphere was generally peaceful, with an air of celebration. People were digesting the news that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had fled to 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 brought her two children, 12 and 10, on Wednesday morning by train from the western city of Gampaha.

She said she wanted her family to be in the capital when the Rajapaksa family dynasty fell.

“This is our country,” she said. “We win.”

The crowd found patches of shade under statues, sat on the wall of an oceanfront 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 that protesters had taken over this past weekend.

Despite the uncertainty over whether Mr. Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday, as the speaker of Parliament has said he would, and who might replace him, protesters were jubilant with the confidence that the end of an era was near.

“This is a historical day for us,” said Randika Sandaruwan, 26, who took the train on Tuesday night with nine friends from the nearby city of Negombo. “We needed to kick out our president, 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 front steps 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 so that this place will remain calm. The whole country is rejecting him.”

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