Sri Lankan Prime Minister sworn in as interim president

Colombo, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s prime minister was sworn in as interim president on Friday until Parliament elects a successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has fled abroad and resigned following mass protests over the economic fallout. of the country.

Lawmakers will convene on Saturday to begin choosing a new leader who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024.

An atmosphere of calm returned to the capital Colombo on Thursday after protesters occupying government buildings retreated, but with a deep rift in the political opposition, a solution to many problems. of Sri Lanka doesn’t seem any closer.

As people celebrated in the streets, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana promised a transparent and expeditious political process to be carried out within a week.

The new president can appoint a new prime minister, who will then have to be approved by Parliament. After Rajapaksa resigned, pressure on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe increased.

In a televised statement, Wickremesinghe said he would initiate steps to change the constitution to limit the powers of the president and strengthen Congress, restore law and order and take legal action against the “insurgents”.

It was not clear who he was referring to, although he said the protesters would not actually be involved in Wednesday night’s clashes near Parliament, where many soldiers were believed to have been injured.

“There is a big difference between protesters and insurgents. We will take legal action against the insurgents,” he said.

Wickremesinghe became acting president after Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on Wednesday, flying first to the Maldives and then to Singapore. The prime minister’s office said Wickremesinghe was sworn in on Friday as Acting Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader, who is seeking the presidency, vowed to “listen to the people” and hold Rajapaksa accountable.

In an interview with the Associated Press from his office, Sajith Premadasa said that if he wins the election in parliament, he will ensure that “a self-selected dictatorship never happens” in Sri Lanka. Lanka.

“That’s what we should do. That’s our function – to catch those who looted Sri Lanka. That needs to be done through constitutional, legal, democratic procedures,” Premadasa said.

Sri Lanka lacked the money to pay for the imports of essential items such as food, fertilizer, medicine and fuel for its 22 million people. Its rapid economic decline was even more shocking because before this crisis the economy had expanded, with a comfortable middle class growing.

The protests underscore the dramatic downfall of the Rajapaksa political clan that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

Father Jeewantha Peiris, a Catholic priest and protest leader, said the country has “went through a difficult journey”.

“We are happy to be a collective effort because this struggle of Sri Lanka has been joined by all Sri Lankan citizens, even Sri Lankan communities,” he said.

Protesters cooked and distributed milk rice – a dish that Sri Lankans enjoy to celebrate victory – after Rajapaksa stepped down. At the main protest site in front of the president’s office in Colombo, people welcomed his resignation but insisted Wickremesinghe should also be avoided.

Sri Lanka is still a powder keg, its economy in ruins. And the military warned on Thursday that it had the right to respond in the event of chaos – a message some found ominous.

Abeywardana, Speaker of Parliament, urged the public to “create an atmosphere of peace to carry out the proper parliamentary democratic process and to allow all members of Parliament to participate in meetings and operate freely and conscientiously”.

Wickremesinghe recently said that Sri Lanka is seeking help from the International Monetary Fund and other creditors, but its finances are so poor that even getting a bailout is difficult.

The protesters accused Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from the government coffers and hastening the country’s demise by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa admits that some of his policies have contributed to Sri Lanka’s crisis.

Maduka Iroshan, 26, a university student and protester, said he was “delighted” that Rajapaksa had quit, as he had “ruined the dreams of the younger generation”.

Months of protests reached a frenzy over the weekend when protesters stormed the president’s home and office as well as the official Wickremesinghe residence. On Wednesday, they occupied his office.

Images of protesters inside the buildings – lounging on elegant sofas and beds, posing by officials’ desks and touring opulent vistas – captured the attention of the public. world.

Protesters initially vowed to stay until a new government was formed, but they changed tack on Thursday, apparently concerned that an escalation of violence could undermine their message. them after clashes outside Parliament left dozens injured.

Protester Mirak Raheem noted that the absence of violence is important, although their work is far from over.

“This is really something amazing, the fact that it happened after a peaceful protest. But obviously this is just the beginning,” Raheem said, citing work on rebuilding the economy and restoring public confidence in the political system.

Rajapaksa and his wife fled overnight on a military plane early Wednesday. On Thursday, he arrived in Singapore, according to the city’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It said he had not requested asylum and it was unclear whether he would stay or move on. He had previously received medical services there, including heart surgery.

Since Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in office, Rajapaksa may want to leave while he still has constitutional immunity and access to aircraft.

A military strategist whose brutal campaign helped end the country’s 26-year civil war, Rajapaksa and his brother, who was president at the time, were adopted by the Sinhalese majority. Buddha on the island praised. Despite accusations of wartime atrocities, including ordering military attacks on ethnic Tamil civilians and kidnapping journalists, Rajapaksa remains a favorite among many Sri Lankans. He has consistently denied the allegations.


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