Hundreds of thousands massed in Colombo through the morning to demand the government take responsibility for mismanaging the nation's finances, and for months of crippling food and fuel shortages.

Protesters broke through barricades and entered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and nearby office to vent their anger.
Protesters broke through barricades and entered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and nearby office to vent their anger. (AFP)

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has agreed to resign, a decision that comes after protesters stormed his residence and set fire to the prime minister's home in angry demonstrations over a crippling economic crisis.

"To ensure a peaceful transition, the president said he will step down on July 13," parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana said on Saturday night, capping a day that saw the president fleeing his official residence in Colombo to escape protesters.

The announcement came within hours of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe suggesting that he too will resign when all parties have agreed on forming a new unity government.

But that did not quell the anger and frustration on the streets that appeared to have boiled over. A mob stormed Wickremesinghe's home and set it ablaze, police and his office said in the evening.

"Protesters have broken into the private residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and have set it on fire," his office said. Police said Wickremesinghe and his family were away at the time.

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President escorted to safety

Months of protests led to the climactic developments — and dramatic scenes — on Saturday, when Rajapaksa fled his official residence shortly before protesters overran the compound and stormed his nearby office.

Hundreds of thousands of people massed on the streets around the leader's home in the morning, demanding his ouster.

After storming the gates of the presidential palace, hundreds could be seen in live broadcasts on social media walking through its rooms, with some among the crowd jumping into the compound's pool.

Some were seen laughing and lounging purportedly in the stately bedrooms, while others paid a visit to the presidential kitchen, according to social media videos.

Not long earlier, troops guarding the residence fired in the air to hold the crowd back until Rajapaksa was safely removed. Rajapaksa's nearby seafront office also fell into the hands of protesters.

Three people were hospitalised after being shot along with 36 others who suffered breathing difficulties following intense tear gas barrages near the president's house, a spokesperson for the main hospital in Colombo said.

Sri Lanka has been reeling from a massive economic crisis that has triggered shortages of essentials and rolling blackouts, and led to skyrocketing prices.

Protesters blame the country's rulers for the downturn that has spelt unprecedented hardship for the island nation of 22 million.

Wickremesinghe, a career politician, took over in May to help steer the country out of the turmoil, replacing predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was forced to step down amid public anger against the powerful Rajapaksa family.  

But Gotabaya Rajapaksa held on to the president's post despite growing calls for him to quit and appointed Wickremesinghe in place of his older brother, even though a section of the opposition demanded sweeping reforms.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies