Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) – Sri Lankan demonstrators withdrew from government buildings they seized and military troops tightened security in parliament on Thursday, bringing peace in the country’s economic slump and political turmoil.
Troubled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled a day earlier under pressure from protesters furious over the island nation’s economic collapse. According to one official, he finally emailed his resignation on Thursday, a day after he was promised – but the crisis was not over as he further angered the crowd by making his prime minister the caretaker leader.
The protesters want both the men and the unity government to avert an economic disaster that has led to widespread shortages of food, fuel and other necessities. But with a fragmented opposition and confusion over whether a solution was coming close with Rajapaksa’s departure.
The slow and random way it unfolded only added to the turmoil. On Thursday, Indunil Yapa, an aide to Sri Lanka’s parliament speaker, said Rajapaksa had emailed his resignation – but it needed to be investigated and an official announcement would not come until Friday.
Protesters accused Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of years of extorting money from the exchequer and his administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied allegations of corruption, but Rajapaksa acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to the recession.
Protests peaked over the weekend when protesters stormed the President’s home and office and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s official residence. On Wednesday they confiscated Wickremesinghe’s office.
Images of protesters inside buildings – relaxing on elegant sofas and beds, posing at officers’ desks and visiting lavish settings – have captured the world’s attention.
He had initially vowed to hold on to these places until a new government was formed, but the movement changed strategy on Thursday, apparently concerned that any escalation in violence following last night’s skirmishes outside parliament would convey his message. in which dozens were injured.
“The fear was that their trust for the struggle might erode,” said Nuzli, a protest leader who went by only one name. “We have shown what the power of the people can do, but that doesn’t mean we have to occupy these places.”
Another protest leader, Devinda Kodagode, told The Associated Press that he had planned to vacate official buildings after Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abhayawardene said he was exploring legal options for the country in the wake of Rajapaksa’s departure.
The protesters withdrew from the Prime Minister’s residence and the President’s residence, where some had laid a red carpet which they had brought back to their place. Others held a news conference to announce that he too was walking out of the prime minister’s office.
Performing artist Visaka Jayaveer described the happy moment of closing the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan after the crowd had cleared.
“His taking over was a great moment, it showed how much we wanted him to step down. But it’s also a huge relief”, she said. “We were concerned whether people would take action – many were furious at the luxury they saw when they were out, struggling to buy milk for their children.”
The country remains a powder keg, and the military warned Thursday that it has the powers to respond in case of chaos – a message about which something was found.
Soldiers in green military uniforms and camouflage vests arrived in armored personnel carriers to fortify barricades around parliament, while protesters vowed they would continue to rally outside the president’s office until a new government was formed. Would have been
The government announced another curfew in the capital Colombo and its suburbs in the afternoon till 5 am on Friday. It is not clear what effect the curfew will have: some people ignored the last one, but many others rarely leave their homes due to lack of fuel.
Rajapaksa and his wife fled Sri Lanka for the Maldives in the early hours of Wednesday, slamming into an Air Force plane at night. On Thursday, he had visited Singapore, according to the city-state’s foreign ministry. It said he had not requested asylum.
Since Sri Lanka’s president is protected from arrest while in power, it is possible that Rajapaksa wanted to plan his departure while he still had constitutional immunity and access to military aircraft.
The political deadlock threatens to worsen the bankrupt nation’s economic collapse as the absence of an alternative government could delay relief expected from the International Monetary Fund. Meanwhile, the country is dependent on the help of India and China.
The lack of basic necessities has sown the seeds of despair in Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. The country’s rapid decline was even more shocking because, before the recent crisis, the economy was expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class.
It was not immediately clear whether Singapore would be Rajapaksa’s final destination, but he had previously sought medical care there, which included heart surgery.
Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president from their ranks on 20 July, who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by parliament.
The story has been updated to show that the Maldivian official said the president was visiting Saudi Arabia, later saying he could not confirm it.
Associated Press writer Bharat Mallavarachi contributed to this report.
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