Troops patrol the streets as calm returns to Sri Lanka, president’s resignation expected

  • President Rajapaksa on his way to Singapore from the Maldives – source
  • Sri Lanka’s interim president imposes curfew on Colombo
  • Protesters must return the residences of the President and Prime Minister

COLOMBO, July 14 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s main city of Colombo was quiet on Thursday as people awaited the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, despite a curfew being imposed and troops patrolling the streets to prevent any outbreak of violence.

Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives on Wednesday to escape a popular uprising over his family’s role in a crippling economic crisis, was on his way to Singapore, according to a Sri Lankan government source.

His decision on Wednesday to make his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe interim president sparked further protests, with protesters storming parliament and the prime minister’s office demanding he also step down. Read more

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“We want Ranil to go home,” Malik Perera, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who said he took part in the parliamentary protests, said on Thursday. “They sold out the country, we want a good person to take over, until then we won’t stop.”

Protests over the economic crisis have simmered for months and came to a head last weekend when hundreds of thousands took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the powerful Rajapaksa family and their allies for inflation rampant, commodity shortages and corruption.

Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards fled the country on an air force plane early Wednesday and headed for the Maldives.

Inside the president’s residence, ordinary Sri Lankans strolled the hallways on Thursday, admiring the building’s extensive art collection, luxury cars and swimming pool.

“The fight is not over,” said Terance Rodrigo, a 26-year-old student who said he had been inside the compound since it was taken by protesters on Saturday along with the residence. Prime Minister’s official.

“We have to make society better than this. Government doesn’t solve people’s problems.”

The usual protest sites, however, were quiet and organizers began returning residences to the government.

“With the president out of the country … holding the captured places no longer has any symbolic value,” Chameera Dedduwage, one of the organizers, told Reuters.

But another organizer, Kalum Amaratunga, said a crackdown could be imminent after Wickremesinghe called some protesters “fascists” in a speech the night before.

The government imposed a curfew in Colombo from midday Thursday (0630 GMT) to early Friday morning in a bid to prevent further unrest. Local media showed armored vehicles with soldiers atop patrolling the city streets.

The military said troops were empowered to use force to protect people and public property.

OVER KILLED IN CLASHES

Police say one person was killed and 84 injured in clashes between riot police and protesters on Wednesday near the parliament building and the prime minister’s office, as people demanded Rajapaksa’s ouster and Wickremesinghe.

The military said two soldiers were seriously injured when they were attacked by protesters near the parliament building on Wednesday night and had their weapons and magazines snatched away.

Police said the deceased man was a 26-year-old protester who died after being injured near the prime minister’s office.

Rajapaksa had repeatedly assured the parliament speaker that he would step down on Wednesday, but his letter of resignation had not arrived on Thursday, an aide to President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said.

The speaker could seek advice from the attorney general on next steps if the letter does not arrive by the end of the day, said the aide, who did not want to be named given the sensitivity of the issue .

Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, both brothers of the President, informed the Supreme Court through their lawyer that they would remain in the country until at least Friday, in response to a petition filed by the anti-corruption body Transparency International asking for action “against those responsible for the current economic crisis”.

Immigration officials had blocked Basil from leaving the country on Tuesday. Read more

Sri Lanka’s parliament is expected to appoint a new full-time speaker on July 20, and a ruling party source told Reuters Wickremesinghe was the party’s first choice, although no decision has been made. The choice of the opposition is their main leader Sajith Premadasa, the son of a former president.

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Additional reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan and Waruna Karunatilake; Written by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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