COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose family has dominated politics in Sri Lanka for much of the past two decades, was asked by the country’s political leaders to step down on Saturday after months of protests accusing him of running the island nation’s economy into the ground through corruption and mismanagement.
The call for Mr. Rajapaksa’s departure was confirmed by two lawmakers and came after protesters entered the president’s residence and his office, and thousands more descended on the capital, Colombo, to register their growing fury over his government’s inability to address a crippling economic crisis.
By the evening, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office only in May and was also facing demands to resign, said that he would step down, saying he had “the safety of all citizens” in mind.
Sri Lanka has run out of foreign-exchange reserves for imports of essential items like fuel and medicine, and the United Nations has warned that more than a quarter of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people are at risk of food shortages.
The economic crisis is a major setback for the island nation that was still grappling with the legacy of a bloody three-decade civil war. That conflict, between the government and the Tamil Tiger insurgents who had taken up the cause of discrimination against the ethnic minority Tamils, ended in 2009. But many of its underlying causes have remained, with the Rajapaksa family continuing to cater to the majority Buddhist Sinhalese.
At least 42 people have been injured in clashes with security forces in the city, health officials said, after the police used tear gas and water cannons against protesters and fired shots into the air to try to disperse them.
Local news media showed footage of protesters breaching parts of the presidential residence as well as his secretariat, a separate building that houses his office.
Videos on social media showed protesters jumping into the pool in Mr. Rajapaksa’s residence, resting in bedrooms, and frying snacks in the presidential kitchen.
“I came here today to send the president home,” said Wasantha Kiruwaththuduwa, 50, who had walked 10 miles to join the protest. “Now the president must resign. If he wants peace to prevail, he must step down.”
The whereabouts of Mr. Rajapaksa was not clear.
Protests have been taking place for months, but the demonstration on Saturday appeared to be one of the biggest yet, even though the authorities had imposed an overnight curfew and halted trains in an attempt to stop people from reaching the capital.
On Friday, the United Nations urged the “Sri Lankan authorities to show restraint in the policing of assemblies and ensure every necessary effort to prevent violence.”
— Skandha Gunasekara and Mujib Mashal