Colombo, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan protesters began retreating from government buildings they occupied and the military stepped up security in Parliament on Thursday, establishing a routine calm in a country already in turmoil. economic and political recession.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had fled a day earlier under pressure from protesters angry about the island nation’s economic collapse. But he didn’t resign as promised – and angered the crowd by making his prime minister leader.
Protesters want both men and a unity government to join to tackle an economic disaster that has caused widespread shortages of food, fuel and other essentials. But with fierce outcry and confusion over who is responsible, a solution seems no longer relevant after Rajapaksa’s departure. Adding to the turmoil, the president left the Maldives for Singapore on Thursday, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from the government coffers for years and that his administration has accelerated the country’s demise by mismanaging the economy. economic. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa admits some of his policies contributed to the crisis.
The months-long protests reached a frenzy over the weekend when protesters stormed the president’s home and office as well as the prime minister’s official residence. On Wednesday, they occupied the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
They initially vowed to keep these places until a new government, but the movement appeared to change tactics on Thursday.
Protest leader Devinda Kodagode told The Associated Press they planned to leave official buildings after the speaker of Parliament said he was exploring legal options for the country when Rajapaksa left without warning. submitted his resignation as promised.
Protesters have since withdrawn from the presidential palace, with some moving the red carpet they had rolled up when they left. Some are still milled outside the president’s office.
“We are not ready to take power in the building,” said Sanka Jayasekar, a 20-year-old protester leaving the presidential palace. “We just want to get rid of (the Rajapaksa regime). Gota Rajapaksa (has) left the country, so he has no power in Sri Lanka, so we have regained our power, that’s why we left the building.”
Other protesters posted videos on social media begging their compatriots not to storm Parliament, after clashing outside the building on Wednesday.
Soldiers wearing green military uniforms and camouflage vests arrived on the armored personnel carriers on Thursday to reinforce barricades around the Legislature.
Meanwhile, the government announced another curfew in the capital Colombo and its suburbs in the afternoon until 5am on Friday. The impact of the curfew is not yet clear: Some have ignored the previous curfew, but many others rarely leave their homes because of lack of fuel.
Rajapaksa and his wife fled Sri Lanka early Wednesday for the Maldives, slipping overnight on an air force plane. On Thursday, he arrived in Singapore, according to a Maldivian official.
Rajapaksa’s final destination is unknown. The official initially said he planned to continue on to Saudi Arabia, but was only able to confirm his first stop in Singapore, where the plane believed to be carrying him landed late last night. Thursday. Since Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in office, it is likely that Rajapaksa wanted to plan his departure while he still has constitutional immunity and permission to use military aircraft.
On Wednesday, protesters were undeterred by several rounds of tear gas that swarmed through the walls to enter the prime minister’s office as crowds outside cheered in support and threw water bottles at them. Protesters took turns posing at his desk or standing on the terrace waving Sri Lankan flags.
Amid growing chaos, Wickremesinghe’s office imposed a state of emergency, giving broader powers to the military and police. Defense leaders have called for calm and cooperation with security forces – comments that have puzzled some lawmakers, who insist civilian leaders will find a solution. France.
Assuming that Rajapaksa stepped down as promised, Sri Lankan lawmakers agreed to elect a new president from their ranks on July 20, who would serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends on 2024. He or she has the ability to appoint a new prime minister, who will then have to be approved by Parliament.
The political deadlock risks exacerbating the already bankrupt nation’s economic fall as the absence of an alternative government could delay a hopeful bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Meanwhile, the country is relying on aid from India and China.
The shortage of basic necessities has sown despair among the 22 million people of Sri Lanka. The country’s rapid decline is all the more shocking because before the recent crisis, the economy was expanding, with a growing comfortable middle class.
Associated Press writer Bharatha Mallawarachi contributed to this report.
Find more about AP’s Sri Lanka coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/sri-lanka