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Sri Lankan troops stand by as protesters seize the Prime Minister’s office

#Sri #Lankan #troops #stand #protesters #seize #Prime #Ministers #office

Sri Lankan troops stood on the compound of the prime minister’s office on Wednesday, arms lowered, doing nothing to stop the huge mass of people who roamed the compound despite orders to “restore order”.

Some of the civilians chanted or waved the Sri Lankan flag, which features a golden lion brandishing a sword, after throwing back tear gas canisters and pushing past elite commandos to occupy compound in the capital Colombo on Wednesday.

Thousands of people cheered as they breached the walls of the colonial-era compound onto a leafy boulevard, revealing another symbol of state power to the public.

The office became the fourth government building to be occupied by protesters in as many days after the seafront office of the President and the official residences of Sri Lanka’s two most senior elected officials were seized.

And as with those previous conquests, the site had been repurposed into a public attraction by evening, with protesters who helped storm the building hours earlier now escorting others through its rooms.

“We’re proud,” said Satish Bee, a businessman who came to scout the site once the dust had settled.

“There is no real government in this country. It’s never been good… The youngsters don’t want to go on like this.”

Less than two hours after the building’s usual occupant, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was proclaimed Sri Lanka’s acting head of state by incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the guards gave up a losing battle to stem the crowd’s advance.

Wickremesinghe declared a nationwide emergency and was soon warning on television that troops had been ordered to do “what is necessary” to bring the building back under state control.

But his words went unheeded locally.

– “We are not terrorists” –

People began bulling the office in the morning after news spread in the capital that Rajapaksa – accused by many of having bankrupted the country economically – had flown the island nation in a military plane bound for the Maldives in the early hours had left.

What followed was a lesson in patience and strategy from a crowd hardened by previous confrontations with security forces over months of protests.

Some carried red traffic cones to smother and safely extinguish tear gas projectiles, which were regularly fired into the street by guards stationed along the walls.

Others led friends or strangers blinded by the smoke to safety behind a wall and helped flush their eyes with liquid.

Braver members of the crowd broke away from part of the gate and parts of the wrought-iron fence, leading to fresh volleys of tear gas – and loud cheers as still-smoldering canisters were thrown back at the troops who fired them.

In his televised statement, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe made references to “fascists” trying to “take power”.

Dhaniz Ali, one of those who walked the compound after the occupation, told AFP that protesters would continue to find new government buildings to occupy.

“We are not terrorists,” he said. “We are only Sri Lankan citizens here to save the country.”

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#Sri #Lankan #troops #stand #protesters #seize #Prime #Ministers #office

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