Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters kept up a demonstration outside Lake House after a brief march from the Bo Tree junction. Party officials said they planned to stay overnight in Colombo.
President Rajapaksa and his former defence secretary brother Gotabhaya spent a brief time with the protesters, but were expected to re-join the crowd later in the evening, party leaders said.
They said hundreds of thousands of people joined the rally, but police said their estimate was that the crowd was about 50,000. Police said the crowd at Wednesday’s protest was about half the number that attended the JO mass rally to mark May 1 at the Galle Face grounds.
JO leader Bandula Gunawardena said they “stormed the city” and would stay overnight opposite Lake House to pressure President Maithripala Sirisena’s government to resign.
“This is the first salvo, we will keep up our protests till the government goes home,” Gunawardena said addressing his followers outside Lake House.
There were no reports of skirmishes. The authorities had deployed thousands of police in and around the capital to ensure there was no breach of the peace.
Most offices and schools emptied by mid-day, long before thousands of protesters poured into the capital from the provinces. Except for Colombo Fort area where the demonstrators took over the Lake House roundabout, there was a smooth flow of traffic elsewhere as if it was a public holiday.
Police had moved several courts on Tuesday to get restraining orders, but in all cases the magistrates said no special orders were necessary as police had powers to deal with anyone disrupting the life of the community.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said Namal Rajapaksa would try to create trouble to ensure violence that would tarnish the image of the government, but there was no sign of any tension.
“People have a right to protest and we respect that right,” Samaraweera said. “They are desperate to try and get someone killed during the protest.”