COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on July 9 plunged into an unprecedented crisis as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reportedly fled the country before a sea of protesters stormed into his official residence demanding his resignation. Hours later, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe — who also came under immense pressure to step down — tweeted that he is ready to quit.
In the emergency all-party meeting that followed, Lanka’s political party leaders both Gotabaya and Ranil to step down immediately to pave the way for an interim administration until elections are held. It was also decided to appoint the Speaker of Parliament to act as President for 30 days and for the remaining period, to appoint a parliamentarian who commands the trust of the majority of legislators.
On Saturday evening, a mob stormed into Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's home in Colombo and set it ablaze, a police official said.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of thousands of angry protesters stormed into the president’s official residence in central Colombo’s high-security Fort area and into Temple Trees, the PM’s official residence, in a show of power. Gotabaya, who was facing calls for resignation since March, was using the President’s House as his residence and office since protesters came to occupy the entrance to his office in early April.
Protesters who climbed the walls of the President’s House are now occupying it. As the government had taken measures not to distribute fuel on Friday to avoid greater mobilisation of protestors, people resorted to alternate modes of transport including trucks and bicycles to reach the protest venue. Attempts to disperse the thronging crowds by tear gas attacks and use of force proved futile but resulted in 33 persons including two policemen injured.
According to reports, Gotabaya was moved out of the house on Friday itself. While Gotabaya has not announced his resignation, legal experts question his ability to remain in power. Protesters said they won’t relent until Gotabaya Rajapaksa quits.
Meanwhile, 16 MPs of Rajapaksa’s own party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, requested him to resign immediately and make way for a leader who could command the majority in Parliament to lead the country. They stated that Rajapaksa should give an opportunity to a mature leader without corruption allegations to take over the country.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials. The country has exhausted its foreign reserves and doesn’t have funds to even pay for basic necessities, including food and fuel bills.
Sri Lankans have been protesting for nearly three months now, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and an end to Rajapaksa's rule. As the island’s economy nosedived amid a huge debt crisis, the public at large suffered severe hardships including an acute shortage in fuel, gas, medical supplies, and food.