Lanka crisis: Gotabaya to resign, Wickremesinghe's house set on fire
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday agreed to step down from his post after violent protests in which demonstrators stormed his official residence in Colombo, forcing him to flee to an unknown location. Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday, according to Sri Lanka's news outlet Newswire. The protesters also set Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's residence on fire.
- Sri Lanka has been reeling under the worst economic situation since its independence, stemming from a foreign exchange crisis that led to shortages of essential supplies for the past several months.
- The new Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who took over in May, also failed to bring the island county out of the crisis, despite promising to take some drastic steps to revive the economy.
Visuals from outside Rajapaksa's residence showed hundreds of thousands of protesters forcing themselves into the compound, tearing down security cordons. They were also seen jumping into the swimming pool and romping through the kitchen and home. It is being said that Rajapaksa was onboard a naval ship, SLNS Gajabahu. A naval official said the president will only return from the sea when it's safe.
Wickremesinghe announced on Saturday that he would resign from the PM's post in order to ensure the continuation of the government. "To ensure the continuation of the government including the safety of all citizens, I accept the best recommendation of the party leaders today, to make way for an All-Party Government. To facilitate this, I will resign as PM (sic)," he said on Twitter.
Protesters broke into Wickremesinghe's private residence and set it on fire hours after they stormed into Rajapaksa's compound. The protesters entered the PM's house and set it on fire in spite of the police using tear gas to disperse the crowd. The fire brigade officials faced a lot of difficulty in reaching the prime minister's residence due to the protests.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said it is hoping for a resolution to the crisis that will allow a resumption of talks for a bailout package. "We hope for a resolution of the current situation that will allow for resumption of our dialogue on an IMF-supported program," the IMF stated. Sri Lanka is also seeking help from India and China.
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.