Sri Lanka is scrambling to deal with the escalating crisis in the nation that is witnessing widespread protests, arson, and loot. Protesters, angered by skyrocketing prices of essential items and uncontrollable inflation for months, spilled onto the streets demanding the resignation of their president and prime minister.
Leaders who attended an emergency meeting called by the Speaker this evening demanded that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resign his post and also step down as the acting president. The Speaker should take charge as the interim president, they demanded.
The protests took a violent turn last Saturday, when the demonstrators stormed the homes and offices of the president and the prime minister and set their homes on fire. Thousands gheraoed the presidential palace, while videos showed many of them taking a swim in the pool inside the premises, holding wrestling matches on the president’s bed and cooking food in the kitchen.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country today without resigning his post.
Here are the top developments from the day:
Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency today as angry protesters stormed the prime minister’s office in Colombo, hours after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on a military jet, leaving the country grappling with the worst economic crisis in decades. An indefinite curfew has been imposed to arrest the spriralling uprising.
73-year-old Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had promised to resign today, appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting President before flying out with his wife and security with complete approval from the defence ministry, triggering a fresh wave of protests. Rajapaksa, who enjoys immunity from prosecution while he is president, fled before resigning to avoid the possibility of arrest by the new government.
Rajapaksa’s escape to the Maldives was negotiated by the Maldivian Majlis (parliament) Speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed, sources in the Maldives capital Male told news agency PTI. The Maldivian government’s argument is that Rajapaksa is still the President of Sri Lanka, and that he hasn’t resigned or handed over his powers to a successor. Therefore, if he wanted to travel to the Maldives, it could not have been denied, news agency PTI reported quoting sources.
Although the Maldivian government is yet to put out an official statement, the Maldives National Party (MNP) leader and former Maldives foreign minister, Dunya Maumoon, said it was very disappointing that the Maldivian government did not care about the sentiments of the Sri Lankan people. The Communications Director at the Parliament Secretariat, Hassan Ziyau, said that parliament was not aware of the matter.
Soon after news broke of Rajapaksa’s arrival at the Maldives’ capital Male, Sri Lankans residing on the island began protesting. Video footage showed the Lankans protesting in Male with the Sri Lankan national flag and placards with anti-government slogans, demanding Gotabaya Rajapaksa be sent back to Sri Lanka.
Back in Sri Lanka, thousands, waving the Lankan flag, defied the emergency and surrounded the PM’s office. The police fired tear gas on protesters who broke through a barricade and stormed the prime minister’s office, calling for his resignation. Wickremesinghe said he was alarmed by the input received by the intelligence services.
In his first televised statement after taking over as the interim president, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe declared a nationwide emergency and imposed curfew in the city and surrounding areas. “We must end this fascist threat to democracy. We can’t allow the destruction of state property. The President’s Office, the President’s Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s official residence must be returned to proper custody,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said that a committee comprising the heads of the armed forces has been given the responsibility to restore normalcy and that he has ensured zero political intervention in the forces’ decisions. This, however, has further enraged anti-government protesters, who demanded both the president and the prime minister to quit over the crumbling economy. Sri Lanka’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has appealed to protesters to support the administration and maintain peace in the country. Addressing a press conference with the Air Force Chief and the Navy Chief, the CDS asked protesters to remain calm and help the armed forces maintain law and order.
Sri Lanka’s state-owned television channel – Rupavahini – briefly suspended telecasts this afternoon as protesters stormed its building. Another state television channel went off air, less than an hour after Rupavahini suspended all live and recorded broadcasts.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has urged protesters to hand over all occupied premises to the government authorities and allow room for a peaceful transition of power which the leaders of the country have promised.
Also Read: | How Sri Lanka spiraled into crisis | Explained
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