Sri Lankan PM refuses to surrender power despite mounting pressure from parliament, people

Facing protest, President Rajapaksa flees to Maldives



Ranil Wickremesinghe. Photo: AFP
Ranil Wickremesinghe. Photo: AFP

By Qadijah Irshad

Published: Wed 13 Jul 2022, 10:19 PM

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on Wednesday after the uprising against him and his government reached the boiling point amid the biting economic crisis.

Angry protesters stormed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office on Wednesday as the PM refused to quit despite party leaders of the country asking him to step down "immediately".

Hundreds of thousands of angry protesters took over Wickremesinghe's office on Wednesday and surrounded his private residence, which they set on fire partly on Saturday. The protesters surrounded the parliament in a protest to oust the prime minister, who they blamed for aiding, abetting and protecting Rajapaksa and his family.

As angry mobs defied a curfew and emergency law imposed by Wickremesinghe earlier on Wednesday, party leaders reached a unanimous decision to oust him, who has been clinging on to power, placing the entire nation on the brink of unsurmountable violence.

"The all-party meeting with the parliament speaker tonight concluded with two unanimous decisions," Tamil National Alliance leader M. A. Sumanthiran told Khaleej Times. "One, we will ask the prime minister and Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe to resign with immediate effect. And two, if he refuses to resign, we will ask the president through the Speaker to sack Mr Wickremesinghe before the president hands in his resignation."

On Wednesday, Rajapaksa fled the island with his wife Ioma in a military aircraft to the Maldives after two unsuccessful attempts to leave the country on Tuesday. Maldivian media reported Rajapaksa flew to Singapore later on Wednesday after spending the day in the costliest luxury resort in the island.

While Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena promised to read out a signed resignation letter by the president on Wednesday, Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe as acting president. More than 250,000 protesters then converged in the capital Colombo demanding the leaders' resignation.

There has still been no formal resignation of Rajapaksa, who remains president until he resigns. Sources said that the Speaker doesn't have a signed resignation letter from the president, as announced.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's defence chief General Shavendra Silva announced that the armed forces and police would respect the constitution and called for calm. "We have requested political leaders to decide the way forward till a new president is sworn in and notify us and the public by this evening," Silva said.

On Wednesday morning, thousands of protesters stormed into the Prime Minister's office, one of the oldest and stateliest colonial buildings in Sri Lanka.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons after protesters broke through the gates, scaled walls and took over the site. They also continued to defy the curfew shouting, "Go Home Ranil. Get out now."

"We won't stop now," 28-year-old said Nalin Bandara, a protester near the prime minister's partially burnt down private home. "Even if we get killed, we'll go on until all the corrupt politicians are out."

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The mob temporarily took over the state-run broadcasting service, Rupavahini Corporation, on Wednesday afternoon, disrupting services, despite heavy military placed around the premises since Saturday's riots. Staff at the Rupavihini, however, said it was "peaceful".

"It was all very civil. A few of them wanted to come in and do a live telecast," said Prasad Dodangodage, head of foreign news at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation. "They just wanted their voice to be heard."

Wickremesinghe, who hails from a political dynasty and came into power as prime minister for the sixth time after Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May, has never been president.


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