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President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country early Wednesday morning, just days after thousands of protesters stormed his residence due to the devastating economic crisis in the country.
Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to resign, with the president’s resignation taking effect on Wednesday. Wickremesinghe said he would resign as soon as a new government was formed, but demonstrators are demanding his immediate resignation.
Protesters stormed the prime minister’s office after Rajapaksa left Sri Lanka, and a state of emergency has been declared in parts of the country.
Groups were seen climbing over the wall and entering the office as the crowd roared in support, cheering them on and waving the Sri Lankan flag. The police fired tear gas to try and disperse the crowd, but to no avail, and more and more people marched down the alley towards the office.
On Wednesday morning, Sri Lankans continued to flock to the presidential palace. A growing line of people waited to enter the residence, many of whom traveled from outside Colombo via public transport.
The President, his wife and two bodyguards flew out of the country on a Sri Lankan Air Force plane. headed to the Maldives according to the immigration officer. Rajapaksa left just a few hours before he was supposed to leave his post.
It comes after months of demonstrations against Sri Lankan officials as the South Asian nation grapples with severe food and fuel shortages and skyrocketing inflation.
In recent days, protesters have broken into Rajapaksa’s home, taking over beds and swimming in the pool. They also targeted the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire.
Some demonstrators waved the Sri Lankan flag as chants against the President and Prime Minister were heard.
Protesters accuse the president and his family of siphoning money from the state treasury for years, though the family denies the accusations. And the Rajapaksa administration is accused of facilitating economic collapse of the country through your politics. Rajapaksa admitted that some of his policies contributed to the crisis.
“I’m not happy that he ran away. He should be in prison,” said one of the protesters in office, adding that Rajapaksa “destroyed this country and stole our money. We won’t stop until we have a new president and prime minister.” “
The Air Force said in a statement that the president and his wife were given a plane to fly to the Maldives. The flight was approved by the Ministry of Defense. The statement said that all immigration and customs laws were observed.
Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president next week, though they struggled on Tuesday to decide on the composition of a new government that will help pull the impoverished country out of economic and political collapse.
Legislators have also yet to choose someone to take over as prime minister and fill the cabinet.
Rajapaksa’s successor will serve as president until the end of his term, which ends in 2024. The new leader could potentially choose a new prime minister, who would have to be approved by parliament.
The country of about 22 million people is experiencing a severe shortage of foreign exchange, limiting imports of essential fuels, food and medicines. The shortage has left the island in its worst financial position in over 70 years.
Sri Lanka has not received fuel supplies in recent weeks, forcing school closures and limiting the use of gasoline and diesel fuel for essential services. Residents skip meals to queue for hours for scarce fuel.
And the rate of inflation in the country is growing rapidly. Sri Lanka inflation reached 54.6% in June.
Political turmoil in the country could affect its hopes for financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund. In August, the government is due to submit a debt sustainability plan to the IMF before an agreement is reached.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.