COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who left his country early Wednesday morning after months of fervent protests blaming him for the country’s economic collapse and widespread hardship, officially resigned on Thursday, kicking off celebrations in his homeland.
mr. Rajapaksa submitted his resignation via email from Singapore, where he traveled after his first flight to the Maldives. He was in hiding on Saturday when demonstrators stormed his official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, before fleeing the country on Wednesday.
It was not a clear victory for the protesters, who appear to be facing a protracted political crisis. When Mr. Rajapaksa fled, he appointed a highly unpopular prime minister to take over the reins of government, which added to leadership uncertainty.
Activists have struggled to keep calm and ensure that a massive civic movement does not help a country still struggling with the legacy of years of civil war into outright anarchy.
During the three months of protests, they stubbornly defended their reputation as a peaceful movement. As news of the president’s resignation leaked out, the protest movement that ousted the island nation influential political dynasty over the financial collapse of the country largely continued, as it had been for several months. Speeches and music were played from the main stage in Colombo as protesters strategized in tents dotted along the picturesque coastline.
But struggle of the political elite over the vacuum of power began to test their patience. Passions flared up. On Wednesday night, large numbers of protesters clashed with security forces, seizing weapons from at least two soldiers as they tried to force their way into Parliament, the focus of the next phase of the leadership struggle.
In an effort to ease tensions, protest organizers on Thursday announced they were leaving most of the government buildings they have occupied, including the presidential mansion. They ensured that historic buildings were kept in pristine condition, by having volunteers clean up after hordes of visitors and discouraging riotous youth from climbing mango trees in the garden or ruining antique furniture.
“We are moving out of occupied buildings because we want to preserve these places, and we don’t want people to commit acts of vandalism in these places, and we also don’t want the state or other entities to use vandalism as an excuse to denigrate us and the movement,” Said Buwanaka Perera, organizer of a protest camp that has been active for more than three months in an oceanfront park.
“So it’s better to hand it over to the state,” he said. Perera said. “The State of Sri Lanka is not a President, not a Prime Minister, but a State.”
Protesters accuse Rajapaksa dynasty for mismanaging the economy of a country that has essentially run out of money and is running out of fuel, food and essential medicines.
Protests followed G. Rajapaksa to the Maldives too. About 100 migrant workers from Sri Lanka gathered in the capital Male, holding placards and placards urging officials not to protect him. “Dear Maldivian friends, please urge your government not to protect criminals,” read one banner. “Get him out of here,” said another.
Find out what’s happening in Sri Lanka
Deposed President. Sri Lanka plunged into deep crisis when protesters, demanding the resignation of President Gotabai Rajapaksa, broke into his residence, forcing him to flee the country. Here’s what you need to know:
Officials in the Maldives confirmed that M. Rajapaksa took off around noon on a Saudi airline flight to Singapore, a scheduled commercial flight between the two countries transiting through the Maldives. They could not tell if Rajapaksa’s final destination was Singapore or Saudi Arabia.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore has confirmed that Mr. Rajapaksa has been allowed to enter Singapore on a private visit. It stated that he was not granted asylum and did not apply for asylum, a request that Singapore rarely grants.
Either direction is one of Islam’s holiest places, and the other, an economic hub, is proving inconvenient for Mr. Trump. Rajapaksa, social media users were quick to point out. He has been accused of Islamophobic politics during his time in office, while failing to turn Sri Lanka into another Singapore, a goal he has mentioned in speeches.
In the city of Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed the role of acting president. But protesters have long demanded his resignation as well, and he is deeply divisive in parliament, where he lacks support. Successor to complete the remaining two years of Mr. Rajapaksa’s term of office is subject to a parliamentary vote.
Assuming responsibility, Mr. Wickremesinghe, whose private residence had been set on fire, ordered a state of emergency to rid the country of what he called the “fascist menace.” He also asked the security forces to restore law and order.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that two army soldiers whose weapons were stolen outside Parliament were “violently attacked” with iron bars and poles and that the armed forces would work together to “ensure national security.”
If this version is correct, the attack will reflect a sharp departure from the peaceful roots of a movement against the Rajapaksa family and its allies that began with small candlelight vigils and ended with the capture of the highest posts in the country. He was supported by broad sections of society: students and trade unionists, Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks, farmers and members of the middle class. It lacks clear leaders; a group of activists is at best trying to coordinate their movements and consolidate their disparate goals.
As a grassroots civic movement, there are many stakeholders with different goals, some willing to compromise through parliament, others wanting to change the constitution first.
Some acknowledged that largely non-leadership efforts have also made it difficult to contain protests in moments of tension, especially after Mr Trump’s promised resignation. Rajapaksa was detained.
“We can’t control people’s anger, especially after they have been bullied in this way,” said Namal Jayavira, a retired human resources specialist who joined the movement against the 13-hour power outage and the policy of restricting citizens’ access to foreign exchange. because of which he was unable to pay for his son’s college education in Canada.
While this weekend’s takeover of the presidential residence and office was mostly peaceful, with protesters clearing trash and tidying up the halls, subsequent takeovers have been more violent.
Protesters forcibly take over Mr. Wickremesinghe’s offices on Wednesday are reviewing files from security forces that have consistently fired tear gas in addition to an earlier arson attack on his private residence. This was followed by nighttime clashes in parliament, moves that could have led to a more forceful police response and a loss of a seat at the negotiating table as political leaders discuss next steps.
The day after the clashes outside Parliament House, the place was deserted except for a handful of soldiers erecting barricades of reinforced steel. At the presidential mansion and the prime minister’s official residence, known as the Temple Trees, protesters showed off the last trickle of sightseers as they prepared to leave the buildings.
Protest organizers said they would continue to hold onto the old parliament building, which most recently served as the president’s office, and the picturesque wall of Halle, where they have camped for the past 100 days, to keep up the pressure.
“People gathered in the old parliament to send a very clear message not only to the executive but also to the legislature – that we want you to do your job,” Swastika Arulingam, one of the organizers of the protest, said. Traffic. “We will continue to protest until we achieve the goals of our struggle.”
RS. Arulingam was scathingly critical of political leaders arguing over how to fill the vacuum left by Mr. Trump. Rajapaksa instead of moving on to meeting the people’s basic needs: first of all, ensure an uninterrupted supply of basic necessities such as fuel and food, and then reform the political system to provide a better system of checks and balances.
“For the last three days, these politicians have acted as if this country is their private property,” she said. “They put our country at risk; they endangered our national security.”
Emily Schmoll and Skandha Gunasekara reported from Colombo and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi. Uvin Lugoda provided reporting from Colombo, Sui-Li Wee from Phuket, Thailand, and Maahil Mohamed from Male, Maldives.