Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaska
Sri Lanka President Gotabaya RajapaskaIANS

Amidst massive public protests, Sri Lankan President decides to resign on July 13

Colombo, July 9, 2022

Amidst mounting public protests in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis in the island-nation, Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaska on Saturday informed the Speaker that he would resign from the Presidency on July 13.

The announcement came after thousands of protesters stormed Rajapaksa's residence in Colombo on Saturday demanding his government's resignation.

Anti-government protesters on Saturday set fire to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's private residence in the heart of Colombo after his security attacked them.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene announced that President Rajapaksa had informed him about his decision to resign.

People set off fire-crackers as soon as the news broke.

Following a massive public march to Colombo on Saturday morning and the forcible occupation of the President's House, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe asked the Speaker to summon the leaders of all political parties and decide on the way to resolve the crisis.

A majority of party leaders had decided to remove the President and the Prime Minister and appoint a temporary President and all-party government for a specific period until a fresh election is held to form a government.

President Rajapaksa, who had not appeared in public since Friday night, had announced he would agree to any decision taken by the party leaders.

Following the all-party meeting, the Speaker sent letters to the President and the Prime Minister, urging them to step down for a peaceful transfer of power.

Starting from March 31, when President Rajapaksa's private residence outside Colombo was surrounded by protesters who demanded he step down amidst the growing financial crisis, protests continued throughout the island with one slogan "Gota go home".

On April 2, the protesters surrounded the President's office at Galle Face Green and blocked its entrance as they continued to demand that he step down.

With no fuel, the country was virtually locked down for two weeks from June 27 but people planned to come to Colombo to demand that the President step down.

Meanwhile, 16 MPs of President Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, in a letter, requested him to resign immediately and make way for a leader who could command the majority in Parliament to lead the country.

They stated that Rajapaksa should give an opportunity to a mature leader without corruption allegations to take over the country.

As Rajapaksa's whereabouts remained unknown, social media reports indicated that a group in 20 VVIP vehicles were heading for the airport, while another group left in two ships belonging to the Sri Lanka Navy.

However who left in them remains unclear.

Religious leaders have also urged the President and the Prime Minister to resign immediately and allow the swift passage of power.

Lawyers have emphasized that President Rajapaksa himself has to decide what course of action he should take amidst the mounting public protests against him.

Representing the country's legal fraternity and sitting judges, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) said it calls upon the "President to consider whether he could continue to fulfil his obligations and the powers and duties as the President of Sri Lanka any longer".

They also urged the Prime Minster, Speaker, Cabinet and MPs to immediately ensure that political stability of the nation was secured forthwith and there should be no delay in ensuring such transition.

"We call upon the police and the armed forces to ensure that no further harm is caused to the people who are engaged in the protest," the BASL said.

The lawyers also urged public to protect public property, specially the President's House and Secretariat and also ensure that no harm is caused to any person.

Violent clashes broke out on Saturday as the protesters stormed the President's residence in Colombo, with police using tear gas shells to disperse the crowds.

More than 40 protesters have been hospitalised, with three critically injured.

Anti-government protesters also surrounded another residence of the President in Kandy, as well as the ancestral house of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President's elder brother, in the southern city of Tangalle.

With the mounting crisis and tension in the country, schools which have been closed until July 18.

In the wake of the island nation's worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948, people have been protesting against President Rajapaksa and his government, asking him to step down.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also a former President, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa (another brother of the President) and several other family members who were in the cabinet and Parliament have already resigned.

With no fuel, the country's transportation have been stopped completely for two weeks and the Indian ocean island is virtually under lockdown.

The island nation of 22 million people has witnessed its foreign exchange reserves shrink due to economic mismanagement and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result it has struggled to pay for imports of essential goods, including fuel, food and medicine.

In May, it defaulted on its debts for the first time in its history after a 30-day grace period to come up with $ 78 million of unpaid debt interest payments expired.

IANS

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