By Tharushi Weerasinghe and Yoshitha Perera
The game plan had always been to storm the President’s official residence. To do so, protesters marshalled by the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) needed to breach several layers of security, risking a maximum force response from heavily armed police and military guards.
But they advanced, undeterred by several rounds of teargas and firing of live ammunition into the air. The agreed time to break through the final barrier had been 2pm, to allow for the largest possible crowd. At the last gate, two demonstrators went rogue before the allotted hour and climbed into the premises. When a policeman was seen warding them off, the others stormed in.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been evacuated. Once the protesters were in, the invasion took on the nature of a field trip. Groups stationed themselves in different locations, warning others not to cause damage. People took over the kitchen, making themselves tea and spooning rice and curry into plates before polishing it off.
The demonstrators were seen admiring the premises.
Some jumped into the pool. They took selfies in every corner of the house, even in the bathrooms and on a four-poster bed.
A single Special Task Force officer and one Ministerial Security Division officer watched passively as anti-Government and anti-President slogans were shouted inside the residence and derogatory songs were sung. There was dancing under the chandeliers, flags waving in the air. Anti-Government posters were hung out of windows. It was chaotic.
All the rooms were filled with people, some standing on balconies. There was a stampede to get into the residence as well as to leave it. In the garden, they unpacked their lunch and ate.
A short distance away, protesters also surged into the Presidential Secretariat and blocked three entrances. To do so, they broke through a human barrier formed by the armed forces. They couldn’t enter the offices as the security forces were guarding those entrances. The main entrance is still blocked.
There is endless chanting, calling for a system change and for the leaders to resign.
At night the protesters were preparing for a party in the garden of the President’s House.