Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled for the Maldives Wednesday to escape a major anti-government uprising in his country.
The president placed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in control of the country before leaving, angering protesters further.
Police deployed outside the prime minister's offices used tear gas against a large crowd of activists. But the protesters climbed over barriers and entered the area. Some entered the office. Others waved the national flag from the top of the building.
“We need both ... to go home,” Supun Eranga, a 28-year-old government worker told Reuters. “Ranil couldn’t deliver what he promised during his two months, so he should quit. All Ranil did was try to protect the Rajapaksas.”
Standing next to a broken door to the office, college student Sanchuka Kavinda added, "No matter what, everyone in this crowd will be here until Ranil also steps down."
Wickremesinghe, as acting president, appeared on television to declare a state of emergency and an immediate curfew. He said a committee of police and military chiefs will return order and security to the country.
He also said he would not leave office until a new government was in place. It was not clear when that would happen as the opposition is still trying to form a government.
New leader to come
Parliament speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena says he spoke to Rajapaksa on the phone. He reported the president said his official resignation letter would arrive later Wednesday.
The Parliament is expected to meet on Friday to name a new president sometime next week. A top ruling party official told Reuters that Wickremesinghe was the party's first choice, although no decision had been made.
An attempt by Wickremesinghe to stay in power would anger the protesters. They say he is a close ally of the Rajapaksa family, which has controlled the country since 2004.
"An MP [member of parliament] with one seat is appointed as PM [prime minister]. Now the same person is appointed as acting President," opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said on Twitter. The tweet called the political process a “Rajapaksa style of democracy.”
“What a tragedy,” Premadasa wrote.
Sri Lanka has been run by the powerful Rajapaksa family for almost 20 years. D.A. Rajapaksa was a lawmaker in the 1950s and ‘60s. His son, Mahinda Rajapaksa, served as prime minister and president from 2004 to 2015.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a younger brother, became president in 2019. He brought Mahinda back as prime minister and appointed other family members to important government positions.
After several weeks of anti-government protests that turned violent, Mahinda resigned in May and was replaced by Wickremesinghe. Government officials said the president's brothers, Mahinda and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, remain in Sri Lanka.
Wickremesinghe, whose private home in Colombo was burned on Saturday, had offered to resign as prime minister. But he did not repeat that offer after he became acting president on Wednesday. If he does go, the speaker would be acting president until a new president is elected. The voting is to take place on July 20.
Economists say the crisis in Sri Lanka comes from years of poor leadership and corruption. They also say it comes from other troubles, such as growing debt, the effects of the pandemic and terror attacks that hurt the tourism industry.
The World Food Program said that nearly nine out of 10 families in Sri Lanka are decreasing their food consumption. The government has been seeking help from the International Monetary Fund and neighboring India and China to pay for food and fuel. And the country has $51 billion in foreign debts that it cannot repay.
Madusanka Perera is a laborer who came to Colombo the first day protesters began their occupation of government buildings. He lost his job, and his father, a driver, cannot do his because of fuel shortages.
He told the Associated Press, “Not only Gotabaya and Ranil, all 225 members of Parliament should go home… family politics have ruined our country.”
“I’m 29 years old — I should be having the best time of life but instead I don’t have a job, no money and no life,” he added.
I'm Jill Robbins.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on reporting from the Associated Press and Reuters.
Words in This Story
deliver - v. to do what you say you will do
tourism - n. the business of providing hotels, restaurants, entertainment, etc.. for travelers
consumption - n. the use of something