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A state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka as leaders try to 'restore order'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Sri Lanka's prime minister and acting president has told the military to do whatever is necessary to restore order in the country. A state of emergency has been declared, and a curfew is in place across the island. After weeks of demonstrations over a bankrupt economy, food and fuel shortages, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country overnight, hours before he was due to step down. Raksha Kumar reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SHOUTING)

RAKSHA KUMAR, BYLINE: One leader gone, another under siege. Crowds stormed the gates of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office Wednesday morning. For now, he's Sri Lanka's acting president. Police fired tear gas as the crowd attempted to push down the gates, eventually succeeding, storming into an empty building. But the chaos was tinged with celebration. After months of protests, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country overnight, taking a military jet to the Maldives with his wife and two bodyguards. He leaves behind a shattered country - bankrupt, starving, angry. Now the protesters are calling for the acting president to go as well.

SUMATHY SIVAMOHAN: We are waiting for an all-party government to be formed.

KUMAR: Professor Sumathy Sivamohan has taken part in the protests from the beginning.

SIVAMOHAN: Our position is that the executive presidency should be abolished. We should have a president who would be beholden, accountable to the parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RANIL WICKREMESINGHE: (Non-English language spoken).

KUMAR: In his first address as acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe told the country he had instructed the military and police to, quote, "do whatever is necessary to restore order," calling some of the protesters a, quote, "fascist threat."

SIVAMOHAN: This is like a Paris commune, a French Revolution moment.

KUMAR: Professor Sivamohan again.

SIVAMOHAN: We are actually living in the middle of a revolution. But like all revolutions can be dangerous, it also can take a very conservative turn.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER WHIRRING)

KUMAR: As a military helicopter whirls menacingly over the heads of protesters in the capital, for many, the question now is, how does the country restore calm? For NPR News, I'm Raksha Kumar in Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Raksha Kumar

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