Prime Minister of Sri Lanka announces emergency and curfew

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has proclaimed a state of emergency as acting president following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s flight to the Maldives on Wednesday, which sparked more protests amid an economic crisis.
“The prime minister as acting president has proclaimed a nationwide state of emergency and enforced a curfew in the western province,” Dinouk Colombage, Wickremesinghe’s media secretary, told Reuters.
The curfew is implemented immediately.

As word of the president’s flight spread, tens of thousands of people gathered at the major demonstration site in Colombo, screaming “Gota thief, Gota thief.”

Hundreds of others stormed the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, demanding his resignation.

The president’s departure brings an end to the control of the powerful Rajapaksa dynasty, which has dominated South Asian politics for the past two decades.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters seized key government facilities in Colombo over the weekend, accusing the Rajapaksas and their allies of rampant inflation, corruption, and a severe fuel and medical shortage.

The president’s brothers, former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, are still in Sri Lanka, according to government sources and aides.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife, and two bodyguards departed the main international airport outside Colombo early on Wednesday aboard a Sri Lankan Air Force plane, according to a statement from the air force.

According to a government source and a close associate of Rajapaksa, he was in Male, the capital city of the Maldives. The president would likely travel to another Asian nation from there, according to a government source.

After protestors stormed his and the prime minister’s official houses, Rajapaksa was slated to resign as president on Wednesday to pave the room for a unity administration.

Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament, told ANI, a Reuters affiliate, that he had not yet received any contact from President Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, a source within the ruling party stated that the president would submit his resignation letter on Wednesday.

This would make Wickremesinghe the president in the interim. However, he has also volunteered to resign. Constitutionally, if he does, the speaker will serve as acting president until a new president is elected.

However, protest organizers assert that the prime minister is aligned with the Rajapaksas and has threatened a “decisive battle” if he fails to resign by Wednesday afternoon.

Buddhi Prabodha Karunaratne, one of the organizers of recent protests, said, “If we don’t hear of the president and prime minister’s resignation by the evening, we may have to regroup and seize parliament or another government facility.”

“We are vehemently opposed to the Gota-Ranil administration. Both must leave.”

Wednesday marked a new record low for the price of Sri Lanka’s national bonds amidst the economic and political turmoil.

As a precaution, the US Embassy in Colombo, located in the city’s central core, has canceled consular services for Wednesday afternoon and Thursday.

A victim of the pandemic

The tourism-dependent economy of the island nation was devastated first by the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequently by a decline in remittances from Sri Lankans living abroad. In addition, a restriction on chemical fertilizers reduced production, although the embargo was later lifted.

In 2019, the Rajapaksas enacted populist tax cuts that negatively impacted government finances while diminishing foreign reserves and limited imports of gasoline, food, and medicine.

Gasoline has been heavily rationed, and there are long lineups outside stores selling cooking gas. Last month, headline inflation reached 54.6%, and the central bank warned it could get 70% in the following months.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s older brother, resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests against his family.

He remained in hiding at an eastern military base for several days before returning to Colombo.

In May, the Rajapaksa government-appointed Mohammed Nasheed, former president and speaker of the Maldives parliament, to help coordinate foreign aid for crisis-stricken Sri Lanka.

In the same month, Nasheed refuted charges that he assisted Mahinda Rajapaksa in obtaining asylum in the Maldives.

The Sri Lankan president reportedly arrived in the Maldives early on Wednesday, although Reuters could not confirm this information independently.

A government spokesman from the Maldives did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Tuesday, Sri Lankan immigration officers blocked Basil Rajapaksa from departing the country via airplane.

Basil Rajapaksa, who also holds US citizenship, attempted to proceed in an unclear direction. But, amid intense street protests, he resigned as finance minister in early April and his seat in parliament in June.

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