Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from the British in 1948.
Citizens have demanded Mr Rajapaksa’s resignation along with that of his brother, prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and other members of the Rajapaksa family who are in the government. But the president has said he will not resign “under any circumstances”.
The main Galle Road was blocked with protesters on Saturday as thousands gathered at the park near the Secretariat, and traffic came to a standstill by the evening.
Thousands shouted “Go home Gota” as they demanded that the president resign. Protestors reportedly carried posters and placards that read “go home” and “go to jail”.
Protesters continued their demonstrations even on Sunday. According to local reports, authorities had jammed mobile phone signals in the area.
Mr Rajapaksa has been criticised for “mishandling” the worst-ever economic crisis in the country.
“They have just ruined our country. We don’t want them in government anymore. They are thieves,” an angry protester said on Saturday, according to local reports.
A senior citizen said: “My children’s future is in question. What do we even have in this country to give us hope? This is enough. The Rajapaksas must go.”
Archbishop of Colombo cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who had earlier accused the government of “conspiring” to come to power, told protesters: “Everyone must get on the streets till the government leaves, these leaders must go.”
He added: “It’s enough now, it’s enough destroying the country, now leave and hand it over to someone who can govern this country.”
Another protester, Thakshila Jayasinghe, a 35-year-old lawyer, said she was sorry for voting for Mr Rajapaksa in the 2019 presidential election: “I wonder what sin I have committed by voting for this president when I see the people suffer.”
The economic crisis comes amid months of shortages of food, fuel and prolonged power cuts lasting up to 13 hours.
Scores of parliament members have already quit, and nearly all Cabinet ministers were forced to resign. Forty-one members of parliament left the president’s coalition government last week to “represent themselves independently”.
One of his ministers Johnston Fernando had said earlier that Mr Rajapaksa “will not resign. We will face this. We have the strength to face this. We are not afraid.”
The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, saddled with $25bn foreign debt over the next five years and dwindling foreign reserves. Nearly $7bn (£5.3bn) of the foreign debt is due this year.
The country is expected to enter into talks with the International Monetary Fund later this month. It had sought help from India and China to buy food and fuel.
Additional reporting by agencies
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