Gotabaya Rajapaksa becomes Sri Lanka's first-ever president to resign after fleeing country
AdvertisementMr Rajapaksa earlier notified the speaker from Singapore via email that he would step down., where he initially escaped after .
Protesters cheered as they vacate the prime minister's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 14 July, 2022. Source: AAP, EPA / Chamila KarunarathneRanil Wickremesinghe — the country's prime minister who is also facing calls to step down — will automatically become acting president until parliament can elect an MP to succeed Mr Rajapaksa for the rest of his term.
The legislature will be summoned on Saturday, Mr Abeywardana told reporters at his residence, adding he hoped to complete the election process "within seven days".
What lead to the president's resignation?Mr Rajapaksa's departure came after months of protests over what critics said was his mismanagement of the island nation's economy, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people.The spiralling economic crisis led to Sri Lanka defaulting on its $51-billion (A$75 billion) foreign debt in April, and it is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a possible bailout.
But the talks have been thrown off course by the political upheaval, and an IMF spokesman said Thursday the fund hoped the unrest can be resolved soon so negotiations can resume.
"I certainly feel, I think the crowd here definitely does feel, quite happy about it," activist Vraie Balthaazar told news agency AFP.
He is expected to look to stay in Singapore for some time, according to Sri Lankan security sources, before potentially moving to the United Arab Emirates.
What about the prime minister?Mr Wickremesinghe was named prime minister in May after Mahinda Rajapaksa — the brother of the outgoing president — amid mass protests over the economic crisis.His appointment was welcomed by some at the time, because he was not from the ruling Rajapaksa dynasty that has become the reviled symbol of social chaos and did not belong to the dominant parliamentary party that forms the family's power base.That has not been enough to cushion him from growing anger among ordinary Sri Lankans, who have swarmed the streets of Colombo in recent days and stormed key government buildings, prompting the president to flee abroad."We are facing a crisis, we have to get out of it," Mr Wickremesinghe told news agency Reuters as he left a temple in the main city of Colombo shortly after his swearing-in. Asked whether there was a possible solution, he replied: "Absolutely."
That solution has not come yet. Power blackouts, soaring prices, fuel shortages and collapsing hard currency reserves are signs of how vulnerable Sri Lanka's economy is.
Hundreds of thousands of people had visited the prime minister's compound since it was opened to the public after he fled and his security guards backed down.
Anti-government protesters after storming Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office on 13 July, 2022. Source: AAP, AP / Eranga JayawardenaBy Thursday afternoon, the gates were closed, with armed guards posted both inside and outside.Police said a soldier and a constable were injured in clashes with protesters outside the national parliament as security forces beat back an attempt to storm the legislature.Protesters also left the studios of the main state television station after breaking in on Wednesday.The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were admitted with injuries on Wednesday, with one man suffocating to death after being tear-gassed at the premier's office.The military and the police were issued fresh orders Thursday to firmly put down any violence, and warned troublemakers they were "legitimately empowered to exercise their force".
But student Chirath Chathuranga Jayalath, 26, said: "You cannot stop this protest by killing people. They'll shoot our heads but we do this from our hearts."