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Sri Lankan President Flees As Protesters Storm Prime Minister's Office

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on Wednesday amid a popular uprising brought on by an economic collapse, bringing to an apparent end his family's near two-decade dominance of the country.

But his decision to leave his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in charge as acting president triggered more demonstrations, with protesters storming the premier's office demanding that he go too.

Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards left the main international airport near Colombo aboard an air force plane early on Wednesday, the air force said in a statement.

He was expected to head next to Singapore, a government source said.

Wickremesinghe's office initially declared a state of emergency and a curfew with immediate effect, then cancelled them but said the measures would be announced again later.

Police stationed outside the prime minister's office fired several rounds of tear gas at protesters, but they were not deterred and surged into the compound. Wickremesinghe's team declined to reveal his whereabouts.

"It feels pretty marvellous, people were trying to take this place for about three hours," said college student Sanchuka Kavinda, 25, standing next to a mangled, open gate of the prime minister's office. "No matter what, everyone in this crowd will be here until Ranil also steps down."

Local media said a 26-year-old protester who was hospitalised after being tear-gassed died of breathing difficulties.

In a statement, Wickremesinghe said the protesters had no reason to storm his office.

"They want to stop the parliamentary process. But we must respect the Constitution. So security forces have advised me to impose an emergency and a curfew. I'm working to do that," he said.

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