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Protesters in Sri Lanka say they won't leave the president's palace until he's ousted

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Sri Lanka's president is still in hiding. Gotabaya Rajapaksa hasn't been seen in public since he was driven out of office over the weekend. President Rajapaksa has agreed to step down by Wednesday, and protesters who descended on his palace have insisted they will occupy the building until he and other government officials have gone for good, as Raksha Kumar reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

RAKSHA KUMAR, BYLINE: The sound of the fury.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

KUMAR: Thousands descended on the presidential and prime ministerial residences at the weekend as frustration over the government's economic mismanagement spilled over into anger. The prime minister's residence was set on fire. The mood changed to one of festivity. People swam in the president's pool, worked out in the gym and marvelled at the expensive clothing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

KUMAR: This man is examining $179 price tag on a shirt found in the president's residence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

KUMAR: But outside, the reality played on. The country is officially bankrupt. Years of mismanagement by the Rajapaksa government has taken its toll.

SHREEN SAROOR: It's the poorest of the poor that suffers a lot.

KUMAR: Human rights activist Shreen Saroor says fuel and food prices are at an all-time high.

SAROOR: For three months, we have not had gas supply properly. We don't have electricity, so it becomes very difficult to cook.

KUMAR: Umesh Moramudali is a lecturer of economics at the University of Colombo. He says the only way to restore confidence is to make a deal with the International Monetary Fund.

UMESH MORAMUDALI: So the sooner we get that, we can also get other support because other countries are not going to support up until we finalize an IMF agreement.

KUMAR: But the question is, while there is a power vacuum, who do the IMF negotiate with?

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

PRIME MINISTER RANIL WICKREMESINGHE: (Non-English language spoken).

KUMAR: In a video statement released Monday, the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said he would stay on until a new government was in place. The president himself has still not been seen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Playing piano).

KUMAR: So for now, the protesters continue to occupy the palace, play the piano, lie on the beds, take selfies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Playing piano).

KUMAR: And Sri Lanka waits for a new government, for fuel to return to the pumps, food on the table, an end to the crisis. For NPR News, I'm Raksha Kumar in Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Raksha Kumar
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