07/13/2022, 17.27
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Prime Minister Wickremesinghe becomes acting president amid chaos in Colombo

by Melani Manel Perera

Protesters, who are also demanding the PM resign, clashed with police in the capital, targeting the Prime Minister's Office. Meanwhile, state television goes off air. Activists are calling for a travel ban on the rest of the Rajapaksa family.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Amid Sri Lanka’s evolving situation, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife reportedly fled to the Maldives this morning without formally submitting his letter of resignation to the speaker of Parliament, as required by the constitution.

As acting president, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency; nevertheless, after clashing with police, protesters stormed the Prime Minister’s Office.

The police used tear gas and water cannons against protesters who are demanding the prime minister’s resignation. The latter called on the military to “restore order”. The country’s state television also went off air.

In the early afternoon, the speaker of parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, said that President Rajapaksa’s letter of resignation was expected today. Last week, the disgraced leader had announced that he would resign today after protesters seized the President’s Residence after months of demonstrations.

The letter would allow Sri Lanka to start the process of succession, with a caretaker appointed head of state and parliament given 30 days to pick a new leader.

Yesterday Speaker Abeywardena announced that a successor would be selected on 20 July, with parliament reconvening this Friday, 15 July, to start consultations.

For its part, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) confirmed that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife flew out of Katunayake International Airport this morning on a military aircraft.

Rajapaksa's escape puts an end to a family dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka since 2005. Gotabaya, after serving as defence minister, won the presidency with a majority of 690,000 votes in 2019.

The protesters, chanting once again the slogan "Gota Go Home" continue to occupy the headquarters of the state TV, the prime minister’s residence and several main streets in the capital Colombo.

Activists are calling for a travel ban on all members of the government, including former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa (Gotabaya's brothers who have repeatedly held government posts), Central Bank Governors W. D. Lakshman, Ajith N. Cabraal, and Treasury Minister Sajith Attygalle.

Chandra Jayaratne, former president of the Sri Lankan Chamber of Commerce, along with Transparency International and a number of other Sri Lankans, has petitioned the Supreme Court stating that the government and the Monetary Board had violated the fundamental rights of citizens by triggering an economic crisis.

In April, Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debt of more than US$ 50 billion. Since then, the country has been unable to import fuel and inflation has exceeded 54 per cent, preventing people from buying basic items, especially food and medicine.

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