COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Security forces fired tear gas and surrounded a military helicopter as protesters broke down the gates of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office Wednesday after crowds demanded his resignation.
Earlier, when the protesters marched near the Prime Minister’s office, security forces tried to disperse the crowd by firing teargas shells, but they remained unmoved and merged with another group. Riot police officers, many wearing gas masks and carrying rifles, stood by air force and army troops, not engaging the crowd.
“We don’t want Ranil the bandit, the bank robber, the deal thief!” The crowd chanted.
Hundreds of marchers, including families with small children, left the presidential office early in the morning. Their numbers were bolstered overnight by crowds flocking to the capital, Colombo, from all over Sri Lanka.
As the day began outside the President’s office, the atmosphere was generally quiet, with an air of celebration. People were digesting the news that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had fled to the neighboring Maldives.
“Thieves are on the run,” said university librarian Sanjaira Perera, one of the thousands who traveled to Colombo. She brought her two children, aged 12 and 10, from the western city of Gampaha by train on Wednesday morning.
He said he wanted his family to be in the capital when the Rajapaksa dynasty fell.
“This is our country,” he said. “We’re winning.”
People saw shadows cast beneath statues, sat on the walls of Seaside Park, and waited in line holding umbrellas to block the sun, for a chance to see the historic office building, one of three government buildings seized by protesters last weekend.
Mr. Despite uncertainty over whether Rajapakse would resign on Wednesday, as the Speaker of Parliament said, who might replace him, opponents believed the end of an era was near.
“It’s a historic day for us,” said 26-year-old Randika Chandaruvan, who traveled by train from nearby Negombo with nine friends on Tuesday night. “We had to kick out our president and now Kota is gone,” he said, using a nickname for the president.
Mr. Sandaruvan and his friends, like many protesters, had nothing to protect them from the teargas.
Shameen Opanayake, 22, was sitting on the front steps with her mother and two sisters. They had taken an early morning bus from their home in Kalutara, south of the capital.
“If he didn’t step down today,” he said of the president, “I don’t think this place would be quiet. The whole country rejects him.