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Sri Lankan protesters party in the president's mansion as he flees the country

Protesters demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swim in a pool inside the compound of Sri Lanka's Presidential Palace in Colombo on July 9, 2022.
AFP via Getty Images
Protesters demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swim in a pool inside the compound of Sri Lanka's Presidential Palace in Colombo on July 9, 2022.

Protesters in Sri Lanka who spent the weekend occupying the president's palace have now entered and torched the prime minister's private mansion as well.

It comes as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country early Wednesday after earlier promising to step down amid growing turmoil in the country.

Photos and videos posted to social media show Sri Lankans enjoying the luxuries of the president and prime minister's estates, documenting themselves lounging on furniture, swimming in pools, and even working out in the home gym.

@shameermhmd4 Sri lanka president house swimming pool 😂🤣😂. #gohomegota2022 #colombo #srilankatiktok ♬ original sound - Shameer Mhmd

@mayuranvlogs ##President house ##Inside##Sri Lanka##gota ♬ original sound - Mayuran

The decadence of these homes, which many Sri Lankans are witnessing for the first time, stands in sharp contrast to the strained economic conditions the nation is currently suffering from due to the government's economic mismanagement.

The country is bankrupt and there are dire food, medicine and fuel shortages that are creating an uncertain future for the South Asian country.

Protesters who descended on President Rajapaksa's palace this past weekend have insisted they will occupy the buildings until he and other government officials have gone for good.

Rajapaksa had not been seen in public since he was driven out of office last week, but his wife and two bodyguards fled by plane on Wednesday to the city of Male, the capital of the Maldives, according to the Associated Press.

Those on the ground say frustration among Sri Lankans has reached boiling point.

People visit Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's official residence in Colombo on July 12, 2022, after it was overrun by anti-government protesters on July 9.
Arun Sankar / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
People visit Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's official residence in Colombo on July 12, 2022, after it was overrun by anti-government protesters on July 9.

"For three months, we have not had gas supply properly. We don't have electricity, so it becomes very difficult to cook," said human rights activist Shreen Saroor.

Saroor said that fuel and food prices had reached an all-time high, and those with the least have been suffering the most.

The conditions have contributed to the mass revolt that has been building for months.

"Seeing the sheer number of people at the presidential secretariat, it was just completely unreal for me," said Marlon Ariyasinghe, an editor at Himal South Asian magazine, who has been reporting on unrest.

"I haven't seen this many people congregating in one place and showing dissent, united in that common goal against the current government, and the president, and the PM. That is something that I have never seen."

People crowd to visit Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's official residence in Colombo on July 11.
Arun Sankar / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
People crowd to visit Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's official residence in Colombo on July 11.

While protesters have taken control of the president's mansion, what comes next is still unclear. Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would also resign, but will stay on until a new government is in place. As Sri Lankans turned their anger toward him, the Prime Minister declared a nationwide state of emergency.

And alongside the power vacuum, there are still crises that will not suddenly stop either, Ariyasinghe said.

Members of police stand guard in front of the police headquarters during a protest by demonstrators demanding actions against authorities over attacks on protesters and media amid ongoing economic crisis in Colombo on July 11.
Arun Sankar / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Members of police stand guard in front of the police headquarters during a protest by demonstrators demanding actions against authorities over attacks on protesters and media amid ongoing economic crisis in Colombo on July 11.

"We still have two days of severe fossil fuel shortage ... there is a medicine and medical equipment shortage. There is a looming food crisis that is coming our way," he said.

"I think Sri Lankans understand that the next six months are going to be very, very difficult. They need to be very resilient in order to get through these six months until an IMF deal is agreed and negotiated."

Sri Lanka has been negotiating a bailout program with the IMF, but it has been complicated by the fact the country is now bankrupt. That deal is what experts think could be the first step out of this mess.

"The sooner we get that, we can also get other support because other countries are not going to support [Sri Lanka] up until we finalize an IMF agreement," said Umesh Moramudali, a lecturer of economics at the University of Colombo.

So for now, protesters continue to occupy the presidential palace and enjoy the amenities, as Sri Lankans wait for a new government, fuel for the pumps, food on the table, and the crisis to end.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manuela López Restrepo
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.