Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down, Speaker of Parliament says; demonstrators storm his residence

Colombia, Sri Lanka – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has agreed to step down in the coming days, the speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament said on a tumultuous Saturday that also saw the prime minister say he would step down and the two leaders’ residences stormed by demonstrators angry at the seriousness of the situation in the country. economic crisis.

President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a televised statement that he informed Rajapaksa that parliamentary leaders had met and decided to ask him to step down, which the president accepted. However, Rajapaksa will stay until Wednesday to ensure a smooth transfer of power, Abeywardena added.

“He asked me to inform the country that he will resign on Wednesday 13 because power must be handed over peacefully,” Abeywardena said.

Sri Lanka
Protesters break into the official residence of the Sri Lankan President, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Saturday, July 9, 2022. Protesters broke into the private residence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister and set it on fire, hours after he announced he would step down when a new government is formed during a worsening economic crisis. It was the biggest day of protests that also saw crowds storming the president’s home and office.

Eranga Jayawardena / AP

“Therefore, there is no need for further disruption in the country and I urge everyone, for the good of the country, to keep the peace to allow for a smooth transition,” the speaker continued.

Opposition lawmaker Rauff Hakeem said consensus had been reached for the Speaker of Parliament to take over as caretaker president and work on a caretaker government.

The announcement of the president’s resignation came hours after protesters invaded his walled residence in Colombo. Video footage showed cheering crowds bathing in the garden pool. Some people lay on the beds in the house, while others made tea and issued statements from a conference room demanding the departure of Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

It was unclear whether Rajapaksa was there at the time, and government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said he had no information on the president’s movements.

Protesters also broke into the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire, Wickremesinghe’s office said. It was not immediately clear if he was there when the incursion happened.

Hours earlier, Wickremesinghe had announced his own impending resignation, amid calls for him to quit. But he said he would not step down until a new government was formed, angering protesters who demanded his immediate departure.

Sri Lanka
A man picks up a tear gas canister to throw it away after police fired it to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lanka’s prime minister agreed to step down on Saturday after the Party leaders in parliament called on him at once and the embattled president resigned the day protesters stormed the president’s residence and office in a fury over the worsening economic crisis.

Amitha Thennakoon/AP

“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several issues to discuss with the IMF,” Wickremesinghe said. “Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government.”

Wickremesinghe said he suggested to the president to have a multi-party government, but said nothing about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. Opposition parties in parliament were discussing the formation of a new government.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in hopes the career politician would use his diplomacy and connections to resuscitate a slumped economy. But people’s patience has worn thin as shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas have only grown and oil reserves have dried up. Authorities also temporarily closed schools.

The country is counting on help from India and other countries as leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

Months of protests have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of dragging the country into chaos through mismanagement and of alleged corruption. The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests led him to seek refuge at a naval base.

Thousands of protesters entered the capital from the suburbs on Saturday after police lifted a nighttime curfew denounced as illegal by lawyers and opposition politicians. With fuel supplies scarce, many piled into buses and trains while others commuted on bicycles and on foot.

At the president’s beachfront office, security personnel tried unsuccessfully to arrest protesters who broke through the fences to run across the lawns and inside the colonial-era building.

Sri Lanka
A man throws a tear gas canister after it was fired by police to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, July 9, 2022. Sri Lankan protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa forced their way in at his official residence on Saturday.

Amitha Thennakoon/AP

At least 34 people including two police officers were injured in scuffles. Two of the injured were in critical condition, while others suffered minor injuries, according to a Colombo National Hospital official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.

Private television Sirasa reported that at least six of its staff, including four journalists, were hospitalized after being beaten by police while covering the protest at the prime minister’s home.

The Sri Lankan Medical Council, the country’s leading professional body, has warned that hospitals are operating with minimal resources and will not be able to handle the massive casualties caused by the unrest.

Protest and religious leaders said Rajapaksa had lost his mandate and it was time for him to go.

β€œHis claim that he was elected by Sinhalese Buddhists is no longer valid now,” said Ven. Omalpe Sobitha, a prominent Buddhist leader. He urged parliament to convene immediately to choose an interim president.

Wickremesinghe said last month that the country’s economy had collapsed and negotiations with the IMF were complex as Sri Lanka was now a failed state.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a shortage of foreign currency. Its total external debt stands at $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday urged people to protest peacefully and called on the military and police “to give peaceful protesters the space and security to do so”.

“Chaos and force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,” Chung tweeted.

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