After managing to enter the presidential palace, and forcing Gotabaya Rajapaksa to escape, the culmination of several months of social discontent, Sri Lankans had a great time inside the compound of the ‘building.

Dozens of men took their shirts off and dove into the pool, some somersaulting. Others lounging on the neatly mowed lawns, still others rushing straight into the president’s private apartments.

“We are in Gotabaya’s room, here are the underwear he left behind,” said a young man, brandishing a black underpants, in a live video widely shared on social networks. “He also left his shoes behind.”

Hated by the demonstrators who hold him responsible for the deep economic crisis that Sri Lanka has been going through for several months, the president had just left the scene, thanks to the soldiers who fired in the air to allow him to escape.

In turn, demonstrators lounging on his large bed, or the comfortable sofas in the living rooms. Some helped themselves to the pantry, scattering snacks and drinks here and there.

“I was surprised to see that an air conditioner was working in his bathroom. As we suffer endless power cuts,” a man who entered the palace told AFP by telephone.

-“We must not be thieves”-

This festive atmosphere contrasted with the tense confrontation which had taken place earlier in the day between hundreds of thousands of demonstrators and the security forces.

The police used tear gas and water cannons to repel the attackers. But some, by seizing a police truck, were able to force roadblocks and climb the high gates.

Once the palace was overrun, the number of police and military guards dwindled. Elite police officers remained posted in the residence, but without dislodging the intruders who walked there at their ease.

Climbing a gate, a student urged the crowd not to loot or deface the state residence, which houses a collection of priceless artifacts.

“We called Gota a thief and pushed him to flee, please don’t take anything from the palace,” he demanded. “We must not be thieves like the Rajapaksas”.

For months, due to repeated shortages of food, electricity, fuel and medicine, many Sri Lankans have been calling for the resignation of the president and several members of his ruling family.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been living in the official residence, usually reserved for the reception of foreign leaders, since only last April, after thousands of protesters then tried to invade his private home in a large demonstration.

His home was not invaded, but he had moved to the palace in the ultimately vain hope of being safer there.

He remains president, told AFP a source at the Ministry of Defense, protected by the army in an undisclosed location.