Colombo, dated 13
Sri Lanka is currently facing a dire economic crisis along with a political crisis. Protesters across the country were outraged when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa quietly fled the country in the early hours of Wednesday, fearing arrest. Protesters who occupied the President’s residence for the last four days turned violent when they occupied the Prime Minister’s office. Wickramasinghe, on the other hand, has declared a state of emergency while taking over as Acting President and has given military-police free rein to quell protests. Finally, Gotabaya Rajapakse, who fled to the Maldives, resigned from the presidency late on Wednesday evening.
Protesters have occupied the presidential residence for four days demanding the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapakse as Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since independence. 73-year-old Gotabaya Rajapaksa had earlier announced his resignation on Wednesday amid warnings from protesters to vacate the presidential residence only after Gotabaya resigns.
However, fearing arrest for plunging the country into economic misery, Gotabaya fled the country early on Wednesday morning along with 13 others and reached the Maldives in a government plane. Gotabaya’s brother Basil Rajapaksa also fled the country with his family, sources said. Along with this, there were rumors in Sri Lanka that India had a hand in the expulsion of Gotabaya, but the Indian Embassy dismissed these reports as baseless.
Protesters were enraged as news of Gotabaya’s escape spread. They also occupied the Prime Minister’s office and marched towards Parliament. He asked to continue the protest till Gotabaya resigns. The protesters also demanded the resignation of Ranil Wickramasinghe.
On the other hand, Gotabaya appointed Ranil Wickramasinghe as Acting President before leaving the country, said Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane. He said that voting will be held on July 20 for the appointment of the new President. As soon as Wickramasinghe took office, he declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in the western province, giving the army and police open arms to quell anti-government protests. Police fired teargas shells and water cannon to disperse the angry crowd.
The protesters were reported to have occupied the government television channel Rupavahini along with the PM’s office. The channel was suspended for some time. Along with this, another government channel also went off-air. The protesters, however, dismissed reports of occupying the channel. He said that we reached the channel’s office and requested the officials to present our point. So we were allotted a 15 minute slot.
Wickramasinghe, meanwhile, in a speech ordered the Sri Lankan military and police to take all possible steps to enforce law and order in the country. They are given open concessions. As protesters stormed the Prime Minister’s office, Wickramasinghe said that fascists cannot be allowed to seize power. On the other hand, the Speaker of the Parliament called an emergency meeting of all the parties.
Earlier, the Sri Lankan Air Force explained about Gotabaya’s escape and said that President Gotabaya left the country in a military jet along with his wife and two security officers. The aircraft was allotted to him only after the approval of the Ministry of Defence. Yesterday, Gotabaya tried to leave the country on a civilian plane, but after that failed, he escaped in a military jet. In the wake of this incident, the military has increased the security of Air Force, Navy and Army personnel. Sources said Gotabaya escaped to Maldives with 13 people early in the morning and from there they left for Singapore in the evening.