Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country for the Maldives on Wednesday, hours before he was due to step down amid widespread protests over his handling of a devastating economic crisis.

As news of the president's flight spread, thousands of people gathered at the main protest site in Colombo chanting "Gota thief, Gota thief," referring to him by a nickname.

Hundreds of others stormed the prime minister's office, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.