(CNN)For years it had been one of Sri Lanka’s grandest and most heavily guarded buildings, serving as the official residence and state office of the President.
But all that changed on July 9, when protesters stormed in and took control, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa before turning the palace upside down.
“That was the home of the most powerful man in the country,” said Sri Lankan author and analyst Asanga Abeyagoonasekera. “It had never been opened to the public.”
It’s now become a novelty attraction — all traces of its exclusivity and prestige gone. Each day for the past five days, thousands have lined-up up for hours just for a glimpse of Rajapaksa’s luxurious lifestyle. The neatly manicured lawns have become picnic spots and protesters swim and party in his private pool.
Rajapaksa fled the crisis-hit country on Wednesday, boarding a military plane to Maldives and naming Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as Acting President.
He has since moved on to Singapore, arriving on a “private visit” confirmed by the authorities. On Friday, Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker accepted Rajapaksa’s resignation, bringing an end to his nearly three years in office.
“Resignation was really the only option he had,” Abeyagoonasekera said. “People are tired, hungry and angry … And they are demanding change and accountability because they are sick of seeing the same faces in charge.”