On Saturday, 9 July, thousands of protesters breached police barricades and stormed into the residence of Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo.
Rajapaksa had fled from his residence a day before the protest, and is now said to have fled the country itself, reported Reuters.
Meanwhile, 16 MPs of the president's party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), have asked him to resign immediately.
The country's prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has called for an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. A statement from the PMs office said that he had also asked the Speaker to summon an urgent meeting of Parliament, PTI reported.
Several Injured in Protests, Police Fire Tear Gas Shells
At least 30 people, including two police officials, were injured amid clashes between security forces and protesters, in one of the biggest anti-government rallies the country has seen in recent months. The police also fired tear gas shells to disperse them.
Thousands carried Sri Lankan flags as they demanded the ouster of the president. While only a few rode in cars, due to the acute fuel shortage in the country, others rode bicycles, and many walked to the protest site.
Protesters also clashed with railway officials in Galle, Kandy, and Matara, while demanding trains to operate so that they can reach the capital and join the protest, which was given the name 'Whole Country to Colombo'.
Several protesters could also be seen taking a dip in a pool in Rajapaksa's residence.
Speculations About Gotabaya's Whereabouts Continue
Although there's still no confirmation about the embattled president's whereabouts, reports by Sri Lanka's News 1st channel revealed that luggage was rushed on to the Sri Lanka Navy Ship Gajabahu anchored at the Colombo Port.
The harbour master at the Colombo Port said that a group boarded the SLNS Sindurala and SLNS Gajabahu and left the port but declined to provide details of those onboard the vessel.
Earlier, a viral video on social media showed a VIP motorcade reaching the Colombo international airport where a SriLanka Airlines aircraft was parked.
Bar Association Questions Gotabaya's Power
Sri Lanka's influential lawyers' body on Saturday questioned Gotabaya's ability to function and remain in power amid protests and calls for his resignation.
“The Bar Association of Sri Lanka calls upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to consider whether he can continue to fulfill his obligations and the powers and duties as the President of Sri Lanka any longer,” PTI, quoting the Bar Association's statement, reported.
The lawyer's body further demanded that political stability of the nation be secured and called upon the police to ensure that no further harm is "caused to the people engaged in protests."
It also appealed to the people to refrain from damaging public property, "especially the Presidential Secretariat and the President's House, which are historical sites in Sri Lanka."
Curfew In Sri Lanka Lifted Due to Lawsuit Threat
Earlier, an indefinite curfew was imposed in Sri Lanka on Friday, a day ahead of Saturday's rally, demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa amid the worsening economic crisis in the country. However, the police later withdrew the curfew after Opposition parties, activists and the country's bar association threatened to file a lawsuit against police chief Chandana Wickramaratne.
Wickramaratne had earlier said that the capital and its surrounding areas were put under a curfew from 9 pm on Friday.
This came as thousands of anti-government protesters made their way into Colombo on Friday ahead of the rally to oust the embattled president from power.
On Friday, the police had fired tear gas and water cannons against student protesters in Colombo before imposing the curfew.
The anti-government protest saw participation from all kinds of people, including religious leaders, political parties, teachers, farmers, medical practitioners, fishermen, and social activists, as per PTI.
Thousands of Additional Personnel Deployed
Thousands of armed soldiers were also sanctioned into Comobo earlier to provide support to the police guarding the official residence of the president.
Over the last few months, several protesters have also been camping outside Rajapaksa's office in Colombo as a mark of protest against economic mismanagement.
"An operation involving nearly 20,000 troops and policemen and women was launched this afternoon. We are hoping that tomorrow's protest will not become violent," a senior defence official was quoted as saying by AFP.
He also said that additional personnel were put into action after at least three judges refused to put a stop to Saturday's protest.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the authorities as well as demonstrators to not indulge in violence during the protest on Saturday.
Sri Lanka has defaulted on its external debt amounting to $51 billion and has been regularly negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package.
In the worst economic crisis it is facing since its independence in 1948, the island nation has reported a massive shortage of essential commodities. There have also been prolonged blackouts in the country over the last few months.
(With inputs from AFP, PTI and Reuters.)