Sri Lankan protesters vow not to give up until president, prime minister resign According to Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Protesters celebrate after entering the Presidential Secretariat, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka July 9, 2022. REUTERS / Dinuka Liyanawatte
By Devjyot Ghoshal and Uditha Jayasinghe
COLOMBO (Reuters) – The leaders of Sri Lanka’s protest movement said on Sunday they would occupy the presidential and prime minister’s residences until they finally left office, a day after the two men agreed to resign, leaving the country in political limbo.
Thousands of protesters stormed the home and office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the prime minister’s official residence on Saturday, as protests over their inability to weather the devastating economic crisis erupted. into violence.
Rajapaksa will step down on July 13, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also said he will step down to allow an all-party interim government to take over, according to the parliament speaker.
“The president must resign, the prime minister must resign and the government must go,” playwright Ruwanthie de Chickera told a news conference at the main protest site in Colombo.
Along with other leaders who helped coordinate the movement against the government, she said the crowds would not move out of the official presidential and prime ministerial residences until then.
Although calm returned to the streets of Colombo on Sunday, throughout the day, curious Sri Lankans roamed the ransacked presidential palace. Members of the security force, some carrying rifles, stood outside the compound but did not prevent people from entering.
“I’ve never seen a place like this in my life,” 61-year-old handkerchief seller BM Chandrawathi, traveling with her daughter and grandchildren, told Reuters as she tried on a plush sofa in her first-floor bedroom.
“They enjoy luxury while we suffer. We are thugs. I want my children and grandchildren to see the lavish lifestyle they are enjoying.”
Nearby, a group of young men sprawled out on a four-poster bed and others jostled each other on a treadmill placed in front of a large window overlooking a manicured lawn.
Political turmoil could complicate efforts to pull Sri Lanka out of its worst economic crisis in seven decades, triggered by severe foreign currency shortages that have forced imports of essential commodities. Weak as fuel, food and medicine stalled.
The financial crisis developed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit a tourism-dependent economy and cut remittances from overseas workers.
It has been compounded by large and growing government debt, rising oil prices and a seven-month ban on chemical fertilizer imports last year that devastated agriculture.
Gasoline was broken up and long lines had formed in front of cooking gas stores. The government has asked people to work from home and closed schools in an effort to save fuel. Strong inflation in the country of 22 million people hit 54.6% last month, and the central bank has warned that it could rise to 70% in the coming months.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said any government in power would have to “work quickly to try to identify and implement solutions that offer the prospect of long-term economic stability, address the discontent of the the people of Sri Lanka, which are very strong and palpable.”
“We will urge the Sri Lankan parliament to approach this issue with a commitment to the betterment of the country, not any one political party,” he said at a press conference in Bangkok.
India, Sri Lanka’s giant neighbour, which has provided some $3.8 billion in aid during the crisis, said it was closely monitoring events.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has been negotiating with the government for a $3 billion bailout, also said it was closely monitoring events.
“We hope a resolution to the current situation will allow the resumption of our dialogue on an IMF-supported program,” the global lender said in a statement.
WHERE IS RAJAPAKSA CURRENTLY?
Rajapaksa has not been seen in public since Friday and has not directly said anything about his resignation. Wickremesinghe’s office said he would also quit, although neither he nor Rajapaksa could be contacted.
Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said on Saturday Mr Rajapaksa’s decision to step down was made “in order to ensure a peaceful handover of power”.
Constitutional experts say if the president and prime minister resign, the next step is for the speaker to be appointed acting president and let parliament vote on a new president within 30 days to complete his term. by Rajapaksa.
Frustration with the economic crisis flared up on Saturday when a large crowd of protesters pushed past armed guards into the colonial-era presidential palace and took over it. Furniture and artifacts were smashed, and some took the opportunity to frolic in its swimming pool.
They then moved to the presidential office and the prime minister’s official residence. Late in the evening, protesters burned Wickremesinghe’s private home.
Neither Rajapaksa nor Wickremesinghe were in their residences when the buildings were attacked.
About 45 injured people were admitted to the main hospital on Saturday, but there were no reports of deaths in the peaceful takeovers, a hospital official said.