Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister will both step down after a day in which protesters angry about the country’s economic crisis stormed the presidential palace and set the PM’s house on fire.
In a dramatic escalation of the country’s woes, thousands descended on the capital Colombo and broke through iron fortifications at the official residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Protesters were seen jumping in the pool, lounging in state rooms, laying on beds, making tea and issuing “statements” from the conference room, calling on the president to quit.
The president was not home at the time, having been whisked away to a “safe” location.
President Rajapaksa announced his resignation hours after the protesters overran his state home.
The Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had earlier announced he would be stepping aside, and hours later his house was set on fire.
Sri Lanka has been in the grip of a months-long economic crisis that the PM was appointed to try and alleviate as the country was hit by rampant inflation and shortages of food, fuel and medicines.
The speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament said the president had agreed to resign as of Wednesday, July 13.
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a televised statement on Saturday that he informed Rajapaksa of a decision taken at a meeting of parliamentary party leaders requesting he leave office, and he agreed.
However Mr Rajapaksa will remain as president until Wednesday to ensure a smooth transfer of power, Mr Abeywardena added.
The prime minister announced earlier that he would resign in response to calls by political leaders for him and the resident to quit, after tens of thousands of people trooped to the capital to vent their fury.
“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF. Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said.
But he made it clear he would not step down before a new government was formed, angering crowds near his home who demanded his immediate departure.
Mr Wickremesinghe said he suggested to the president to have an all-party government, but didn’t say anything about Mr Rajapaksa’s whereabouts.
Opposition parties in Parliament were discussing the formation of a new government.
To ensure the continuation of the Government including the safety of all citizens I accept the best recommendation of the Party Leaders today, to make way for an All-Party Government.
To facilitate this I will resign as Prime Minister.
— Ranil Wickremesinghe (@RW_UNP) July 9, 2022
Mr Rajapaksa appointed Mr Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in the hope that the career politician would use his diplomacy and contacts to resuscitate a collapsed economy.
But people’s patience wore thin as shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas only increased and oil reserves ran dry.
Many protesters accuse Mr Wickremesinghe of trying to save Mr Rajapaksa when he came under pressure to resign and every other member of his powerful political dynasty quit the cabinet.
Privately-owned Sirasa Television reported that at least six of their staff members including four reporters were hospitalised after they were beaten by police while covering the protest near Mr Wickremesinghe’s home.
Sri Lanka Medical Council, the country’s top professional body, warned that the country’s hospitals were running with minimum resources and would not be able to handle any mass casualties from the unrest.
The association said that the president, prime minister and the government would be held responsible if people died or were maimed.
It urged the leaders to heed the cry of the people, resign and hand over the reins to an all-party government.