Sri Lankan opposition seeks new government after protests forced leaders to leave

Opposition leaders in Sri Lanka are meeting Sunday to form a new government after the country’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to step down.

It comes after protesters in Colombo stormed the residences of both leaders on Saturday amid the country’s worst economic crisis in nearly 80 years.

Months of demonstrations have all but wiped out the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

The demonstrators are calling for a full-party government and accusing the country’s leaders of instigating the worst financial crisis the country has seen since World War II.

The president’s whereabouts are still unknown after he fled his mansion on Saturday. Anti-government forces took to social media and posted videos of hundreds of people storming the colonial-style complex.

The protesters stayed in the building overnight and continue to occupy his house. Live streams of demonstrators exploring the President’s private quarters and swimming in his pool were broadcast Saturday from the grounds.

The demonstrators say they found a large amount of cash at Rajapaksa’s home, which local media reported has now been handed over to the authorities.

Mahinda Parliament Speaker Yapa Abeywardena said in a televised statement late Saturday night that he informed Rajapaksa that the leaders of the parliament had met and decided to ask him to leave his post, and the President agreed. However, he added that Rajapaksa would remain temporarily to ensure a smooth transition of power.

“He asked me to inform the country that he will resign on Wednesday, the 13th, because there is a need to transfer power peacefully,” Abeywardena said.

The speaker also took the opportunity to call for peace.

Under Sri Lankan law, if both the president and the prime minister resign, the speaker of parliament can only serve as interim president for a maximum of 30 days.

However, the protesters say they will not leave the president’s house until both leaders officially leave their posts. Although Prime Minister Wickremesinghe announced his impending resignation, he said he would not resign until a new government was formed, further angering protesters who demanded his immediate departure.

“Today there is a fuel crisis in this country, food shortages, the head of the World Food Program is visiting us, and we need to discuss several issues with the IMF,” Wickremesinghe said. “So if this government goes, there must be another government.”

The prime minister, who is also the country’s finance minister, has just completed a round of talks with the International Monetary Fund to resolve some financial issues.

This is because the prime minister’s house was also targeted by my protesters. Dozens of people broke into his private residence and set the house on fire on Saturday. Police said they have now arrested three people who allegedly started the fire.

At least 34 people were injured in the protests and riots, including two police officers, according to a spokesman for the Colombo National Hospital. Two are in critical condition, the rest received minor injuries.