Sri Lankan PM declares emergency as Gotabaya flees to Maldives
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday declared a state of emergency after embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on a military jet after facing a massive public revolt for the collapse of the country's economy. He has fled with his wife and two bodyguards. Notably, this comes on a day when Rajapaksa is supposed to resign from the president's post.
- Sri Lanka is facing severe shortages of food, fuel, and other essentials, as well as record inflation and crippling power cuts.
- It is struggling to service its $51 billion foreign debt due to a lack of foreign exchange with the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardizing its lucrative tourism revenue.
- Saturday witnessed a massive anti-government protest even as peaceful demonstrations were going on for several months now.
A curfew was also imposed in the Western Province as protesters reportedly marched to the PM's Office urging him to resign. Demonstrators broke through a security barricade even as forces used tear gas before storming Wickremesinghe's office, demanding his resignation. To recall, the prime minister had already said that he was willing to resign and make way for an all-party government to take over.
BBC earlier reported that Rajapaksa reached the capital of the Maldives, Male, at around 3:00 am (local time). His younger brother and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has also reportedly fled Sri Lanka. However, there isn't any official confirmation yet. To recall, Basil attempted to flee to Dubai in the early hours of Tuesday but was unsuccessful after the airport's immigration officials blocked him.
To recall, the president earlier informed through Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena that he would resign on Wednesday. As the president, Rajapaksa has immunity from arrest. So, it's believed he wanted to leave the country before resigning. Reportedly, he was also barred from leaving Lanka earlier—like his younger brother—following an embarrassing standoff with airport officials. In Male, he was driven to an undisclosed location.
Shocking images of protesters exploring the president's official residence have been doing the rounds over the last few days. Reportedly, they also discovered millions in cash and a secret bunker. Many have criticized Rajapaksa and his family members—many of whom were part of the government—for living a lavish life while the country's people suffered from the economic crisis caused by their bad policy decisions.
As per Sri Lanka's Constitution, the incumbent prime minister would automatically become the acting president until the Parliament votes to appoint the president's successor. But Wickremesinghe also offered to resign amid violent protests last week. So, if both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena would become the acting president. However, the latest reports also suggest Wickremesinghe is eyeing the post of president.