Sri Lanka’s beleaguered government on Wednesday declared a nationwide state of emergency to quell the ongoing mass protests following the country’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa., Protesters stormed the homes of both the president and prime minister over the weekend, demanding that both leaders step down. Sri Lankans blame their government for the months-long severe economic crisis that has left many struggling to meet basic necessities.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over as the country’s acting president, invoked an emergency order to take back control of the capital city amid heavy protests. But his announcement only served to quell the anger of protesters at him and his office became the epicenter of protests on Wednesday.
Police imposed an indefinite curfew in the western province of the South Asian island nation, which includes the capital Colombo. Sri Lanka is located just off the southeast coast of India and is home to about 22 million people.
Wickremesinghe, in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, said security measures have been intensified and he has ordered the army to do whatever is necessary to restore order.
“We must end this fascist threat to democracy,” he said. “We cannot allow destruction of state property. The President’s Office, the President’s Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s official residence must be returned to proper custody.”
Wickremesinghe said, “We cannot allow fascists to take over power. Some mainstream politicians also seem to be supporting these extremists. That’s why I declared a nationwide emergency and curfew.”
The prime minister’s office said earlier this week that President Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday to clear the way for a “peaceful transition of power”.
But instead of resigning, he fled to Maldives, fueling anger on the streets.
Sri Lankan parliament speaker Mahinda Yapa Abhayavardhanam said Rajapaksa had informed him in a telephone call that he would still resign as promised, but it was unclear whether the move was also coming on Wednesday – or whether it was something To do or not to do anything. Protesters’ anger.
According to French news agency AFP, the president went to the Maldives in a military plane with his wife and two bodyguards.
On Wednesday, thousands of protesters stormed Wickremesinghe’s office as soon as news of his escape was received. Eager to avoid a repetition of dramatic scenes played out over the weekend when protesters took over the president’s grand residence, Sri Lankan security forces fired tear gas at the protesters and raised the slogan “Go home Ranil! Go home gotta!” Citing leaders.
Protesters eventually made it into the building and appeared on their balconies with their fists and phones victorious.
On Saturday, thousands of protesters stormed Rajapaksa’s official residence, ransacking parts of it but also relaxing in its luxurious bedroom, gym and swimming pool. Families with young children came to soak up the atmosphere and photograph the ornate grounds in what looked like a victory parade for the popular rebellion. But leaders who have protested for being out of power were still technically in office on Wednesday.
Since the protests broke out at the end of last week, participants have called for the immediate resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has said that he will leave his post only after the new government is formed.
According to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister takes over as the acting President when the President resigns or becomes incapacitated. The country’s lawmakers have held several meetings this week to elect a new president, but no consensus has been reached.
Months of anger over power shortages, food, medicine and fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices continue to grow.
Sri Lankans have suffered prolonged power cuts this summer and have to queue for hours at gas stations to buy less than a gallon of fuel. The country’s cash reserves are running low, forcing Sri Lanka to default on its huge external debt of $51 billion as it has been unable to make interest payments on its loans.
The government blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for eroding the country’s vital tourism income, but economists say other factors, including political corruption and economic mismanagement, are behind the economic crisis.
The government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure a $3 billion bailout package, but its timing remained unclear on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, some Sri Lankans living in Maldives protested and demanded that the Maldivian government send Rajapaksa back home to face the music. But Sri Lankan news outlet Daily Mirror reported, citing unnamed sources, that Rajapaksa would fly to Singapore later on Wednesday.