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Sri Lanka’s president is stepping down after being chased away from home

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the capital Colombo to demand that the government take responsibility for poor management of the nation’s finances and for crippling shortages of food and fuel.

Image: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (C). Credit: Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP

SRI LANKA – Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his resignation on Saturday, hours after a mob of angry protesters chased him from his residence as months of frustration caused by an unprecedented economic crisis boiled over.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the capital Colombo to demand that the government take responsibility for poor management of the nation’s finances and for crippling shortages of food and fuel.

After storming the gates of the Presidential Palace, a crowd of protesters marched through its rooms, some of whom, among the noisy crowd, jumped into the pool. Others were seen laughing and relaxing in the stately bedrooms of the residence, where one pulled what he claimed was a pair of Rajapaksa underwear.

Around the same time, the leader had boarded a naval vessel at Colombo Harbor and was led to the island’s southern waters, where he let it be known that he was finally bowing to months of calls for his departure.

“To ensure a peaceful transition, the President said he would resign on July 13,” Parliament Speaker Mahinda Abeywardana said in a televised statement.

Rajapaksa had to be pulled out of his residence by troops firing into the air to keep the crowd outside at a distance. Shortly after storming the presidential palace, Rajapaksa’s nearby office by the sea also fell into the hands of protesters.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the first person in line to succeed Rajapaksa, convened a meeting of political leaders and said he was willing to step down to pave the way for a unity government. But they failed to reassure protesters who stormed the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire after nightfall.

Footage shared on social media showed a crowd cheering over the fire, which broke out shortly after a security department guarding Wickremesinghe attacked several journalists outside the home.

No injuries have been reported so far, and police said Wickremesinghe and his family were missing at the time.

Security forces tried to disperse the huge crowds that had bullied Colombo’s administrative district earlier in the day, with dozens injured in the resulting clashes.

A spokeswoman for Colombo’s main hospital said three people were being treated for gunshot wounds, along with 36 others suffering from difficulty breathing after being trapped in tear gas barriers.

‘Not deterrent’

Sri Lanka has suffered through months of shortages of basic commodities, prolonged power outages and galloping inflation after running out of foreign exchange to import necessities. The government has defaulted on its $ 51 billion foreign debt and is seeking a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund.

Thousands of people had flocked to the capital for Saturday’s demonstration, the latest outbreak of unrest triggered by the crisis.

Police had withdrawn a curfew issued on Friday after opposition parties, rights activists and the bar association threatened to sue the police chief.

Thousands of anti-government protesters ignored the order to stay home and even forced railway authorities to run trains to take them to Colombo for Saturday’s demonstration, officials said.

“The curfew was not a deterrent. In fact, it encouraged more people to take to the streets in spite,” the defense official said.

Sri Lanka has almost exhausted its already scarce supplies of gasoline, and people unable to travel to the capital held protests in other cities across the island. Protesters had already held a month-long protest camp outside Rajapaksa’s office, demanding his resignation.

The camp was the scene of clashes in May when a gang of Rajapaksa loyalists attacked peaceful protesters gathered there.

Nine people were killed and hundreds wounded after the violence sparked reprisals against pro-government crowds and arson attacks on lawmakers’ homes.

Cricket continues

The unrest comes at the end of Australia’s ongoing cricket tour of Sri Lanka, where Pakistan’s team is also on the island for their upcoming series.

Cricket officials said there were no plans to change their schedules, adding that the sport was unaffected by the political unrest. “The Australian test is coming to an end and we have to start the Pakistan series,” a cricket board official told AFP.

“There is no opposition to having the matches. In fact, fans are supportive and we have no reason to reschedule.”



Sri Lanka’s president is stepping down after being chased away from home

Source link Sri Lanka’s president is stepping down after being chased away from home

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