Sri Lankans on edge ahead of President Rajapaksa's promised resignation on Wednesday; bakery items see massive price hike

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose whereabouts are not known since Friday, was blocked from departing Sri Lanka on Monday after refusing to join a public queue at the Colombo airport.
Sri Lanka army soldiers patrol near the official residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa three days after it was stormed by anti government protesters in Colombo. (Photo | AP)
Sri Lanka army soldiers patrol near the official residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa three days after it was stormed by anti government protesters in Colombo. (Photo | AP)

COLOMBO: Sri Lankans were on the edge on Tuesday as they waited for whether embattled Gotabaya Rajapaksa will honour his offer to resign as president, amid reports that key members of the erstwhile powerful ruling family were attempting to flee in the face of massive public anger against them for mishandling the economy that has bankrupt the country.

Rajapaksa, whose whereabouts are not known since Friday, was blocked from departing Sri Lanka on Monday after refusing to join a public queue at the Colombo airport in order to have his passport checked by immigration, CNN reported, citing a high-ranking military source.

It said Rajapaksa's aides arrived at the airport with 15 passports belonging to the president and members of his family - including First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa - who had booked seats on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight leaving for Dubai at 6:25 p.m. local time on Monday, according to the military source.

Immigration officers declined to process the passports given to them by presidential aides, as Rajapaksa and his family were not physically present for cross-checks and, eventually, the flight departed without the president and his family on board, the source added.

Earlier, Rajapaksa's younger brother and ex-finance minister Basil Rajapaksa tried to leave Sri Lanka but was stopped by immigration officials at the airport.

Basil, the 71-year-old leader who is being widely held responsible for the country's worst economic crisis which has heaped misery on the people, tried to leave the country on Monday night through the VIP terminal of Colombo airport.

The Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers Association said the immigration officials objected to serving him at the VIP clearance line and even the passengers of the Emirates flight to Dubai had objected to his leaving.

Basil, a US passport holder, resigned as finance minister in early April as street protests intensified against shortages of fuel, food and other necessities and quit his seat in parliament in June.

Hours later, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking an interim order restraining former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and other influential officials of the Rajapaksa regime from fleeing the country without the prior approval of the apex court.

The petitioners also sought an order to take legal action against those responsible for financial irregularities and mismanagement of the Lankan economy, news portal dailymirror.lk reported.

Besides Mahinda, the petition urged travel restrictions on Basil, former Central Bank governors Ajith Nivard Cabraal and W D Lakshman, and former finance secretary S R Atygalle.

The employees of Sri Lankan Airlines withdrew from their duties from noon in a bid to prevent responsible officials involved in the country's present crisis from leaving, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.

President Rajapaksa has informed both Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he will resign on July 13, days after protesters stormed his official residence in rage over the island nation's worst economic crisis.

Speaker Abeywardena is expected to publicly announce President Rajapaksa's resignation to the nation on Wednesday.

The Sri Lanka Air Force on Tuesday rejected reports that President Rajapaksa was currently staying at a private house belonging to its chief Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana, describing it as “propaganda” to tarnish the force's image.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's political parties have stepped up efforts to form an all-party government and subsequently elect a new President on July 20 to prevent the bankrupt nation sliding further into anarchy.

A meeting was held between the main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and former president Maithripala Sirisena's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Parties have begun campaigning for the support of possible candidates.

The SJB said they will campaign for the appointment of Sajith Premadasa as the interim President.

Premadasa said on Monday that his party was ready to lead the country at the presidential and prime ministerial level and develop the economy.

Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, if both the president and prime minister resign, the Speaker of parliament will serve as acting president for a maximum of 30 days.

The Parliament will elect a new president within 30 days from one of its members, who will hold the office for the remaining two years of the current term.

The political uncertainty prevails in Sri Lanka where the distribution of cooking gas has resumed alongside the delivery of fuel to retailers by the Indian Oil Company after a stoppage on Sunday.

Long queues are still seen at fuel pumps.

The price of a 450 gram loaf of bread will be hiked by Rs 20 from midnight Wednesday while other bakery items will see a price increase of Rs 10 in crisis-hit Sri Lanka due to a spike in the cost of wheat flour.

The protesters continue to occupy the three main buildings in the capital, the President's House, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister's official residence, Temple Trees, calling for their resignations.

The sites have been opened for public thronging the residences since Saturday to find out as to what lies behind the most protected places in the country.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last week said Sri Lanka is bankrupt.

The Sri Lankan government has confirmed that the urea imported from India is suitable for paddy cultivation and other crops, according to a media report on Tuesday, amidst indications that the crisis-hit country may encounter a food shortage by mid-August.

Sri Lanka on Sunday received 44,000 metric tonnes of urea, the first consignment of 65,000 MT urea to be provided under the Indian loan assistance programme as part of New Delhi's ongoing efforts to support the country's farmers and help bolster bilateral cooperation for food security.

The samples of the urea were sent to a local laboratory and the National Fertiliser Secretariat received the report on the biuret content of the fertiliser on Monday afternoon, the Ministry of Agriculture said as quoted by Internet newspaper colombopage.com.

According to news portal newsfirst.lk, the Fertiliser Secretariat has confirmed that the urea imported from India is suitable for Sri Lanka's paddy cultivation and other crops.

The government report states that the biurate percentage of the urea is 0.9 per cent.

Previously, three international laboratory reports were obtained regarding the fertiliser and those reports stated that the percentage of biurate is 0.65 per cent, it said.

Generally, the biurate percentage of urea used in Sri Lanka is 1 per cent.

Accordingly, arrangements have been made to distribute the urea to agricultural service centres across the island by Ceylon Commercial Fertiliser Company.

Last month, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera met Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay and sought India's help for food security and environmental protection in the island nation, as it faces the worst economic crisis in its post-independence history.

In May, India assured Sri Lanka to immediately supply 65,000 metric tonnes of urea to avoid any disruption to the current Yala cultivation season in Sri Lanka.

Yala is the season of paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka that lasts between May and August.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's decision last year to ban chemical fertiliser imports in order to turn into a green economy has caused a food shortage with crop losses amounting to 50 per cent.

Rajapaksa later admitted that his decision to ban chemical fertilisers to go 100 per cent organic was wrong.

Agriculturists have warned that the country may encounter a food shortage by mid-August in the ongoing economic crisis.

India has committed more than USD 3 billion to debt-ridden Sri Lanka in loans, credit lines and credit swaps since January this year.

Sri Lanka's annual fertiliser imports cost USD 400 million.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, 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, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.

Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

The price of a 450 gram loaf of bread will be hiked by Rs 20 from midnight Wednesday while other bakery items will see a price increase of Rs 10 in crisis-hit Sri Lanka due to a spike in the cost of wheat flour, an industry association announced on Tuesday.

The decision to hike the prices was taken due to an increase in price of a kilogramme of wheat flour by Rs 32 on Monday, Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror news website quoted the All Ceylon Bakery Owners' Association President N.K.

Jayawardena as saying.

A kilogramme of wheat flour previously priced at Rs 84.50 in the market is now sold at more than Rs 300, the association president explained.

"The rupee value against the dollar does not exceed Rs 400, but the flour price has increased to Rs 300 in the local market and thereby the price of wheat flour has gone up by 400 per cent," Jayawardena said.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.

Schools have been suspended and fuel has been limited to essential services.

Patients are unable to travel to hospitals due to the fuel shortage and food prices are soaring.

President Gotabya Rajapaksa has officially conveyed to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he will resign on July 13 as previously announced, the PM Office said on Monday, days after protesters stormed both leaders' homes in rage over the government's mishandling of the country's worst economic crisis.

Protesters since Saturday continue to occupy the three main buildings in the capital, the President's House, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister's official residence Temple Trees.

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.

Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

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