After the Sri Lankan prime minister said he will step down when a new government is formed due to a deepening economic crisis, protesters broke into his private property and set it on fire.
Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, In the largest day of protests, which also saw mobs invade the president’s house and office, protesters stormed into the private residence of the Sri Lankan prime minister and set it on fire hours after he announced his intention to retire once a new government is formed.
The demonstrators broke into the prime minister’s Colombo house on Saturday night, according to the office of Ranil Wickremesinghe. It’s unclear at this moment if he was inside during the incident.
On the day when protestors stormed the president’s home and office in a frenzy over a deteriorating economic crisis, party leaders in Parliament urged that both the prime minister and the embattled president quit. On Saturday, the prime minister of Sri Lanka decided to do so.
When all parties have reached an agreement on a new administration, the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said in a spoken announcement that he will step down.
“Currently, this nation is experiencing a fuel problem, a food scarcity, the head of the World Food Program is here, and we have a number of issues to discuss with the IMF. Consequently, a new government should be in place if this one leaves “added he.
His choice came after the largest demonstration to hit Sri Lanka, in which tens of thousands of people smashed past barriers and stormed the home and office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to express their rage against a figure they blame for the country’s darkest crisis.
People were captured on camera splashing around in the house’s outdoor pool in a joyful atmosphere. Some people made “statements” from the conference room demanding that Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe resign, while others lounged on mattresses or poured tea and drank it.
Wickremesinghe said he offered an all-party government to the president, but he made no mention of Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. The creation of a new administration was now being discussed by opposition groups in Parliament.
In May, Rajapaksa chose Wickremesinghe to lead the country as prime minister in the hopes that the professional politician would utilize his diplomacy and network to revive the failing economy. But when shortages of food, medicine, and cooking gas grew worse and oil supplies ran out, people’s patience began to fray.
When Rajapaksa was under pressure to resign and every other member of his strong political dynasty left the Cabinet, many demonstrators claim Wickremesinghe tried to protect Rajapaksa.
Later on Saturday night, demonstrators gathered close to Wickremesinghe’s residence in an effort to compel him to step down immediately.
According to privately owned Sirasa Television, at least six of its employees, including four reporters, were taken to the hospital after being physically assaulted by police while covering the demonstration in front of Wickremesinghe’s house.
The main medical organization in the nation, the Sri Lanka Medical Council, issued a warning that the country’s hospitals were operating on minimal funding and would not be able to handle any large casualties from the disturbance.
According to the group, if individuals die or are injured, the president, prime minister, and government would be held accountable. It exhorted the leaders to pay attention to the people’s cries, step down, and cede power to an all-party administration.
If Rajapaksa was inside his home when it was invaded earlier on Saturday, it remained unclear. Mohan Samaranayake, a government spokesperson, claimed to be unaware of his whereabouts.
According to opposition MP Rauff Hakeem on Twitter, party leaders in Parliament afterwards gathered and agreed to ask Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to resign. A decision was made, he claimed, for the parliamentary speaker to serve as interim president and form an interim administration.
The government of Sri Lanka is attempting to arrange a bailout with the International Monetary Fund although the country’s economy is in a condition of collapse and dependent on help from India and other nations. People are finding it difficult to purchase food, gasoline, and other needs as a result of the acute shortages of basic goods caused by the economic collapse.
The unrest has sparked months of demonstrations that have come dangerously close to toppling the Rajapaksa political family, which has dominated Sri Lanka for the majority of the previous two decades.
After fleeing to safety at a naval installation after violent protests, the president’s elder brother submitted his resignation as prime minister in May. The Rajapaksa family has come under heavy criticism from the people, who accuse them of causing Sri Lanka’s current state of disarray through incompetent leadership and corruption claims.
Security guards at the president’s office attempted to halt protesters who broke past gates and ran across the lawns and inside the colonial-era structure.
As demonstrators attempted to enter the home, scuffles resulted in at least 34 injuries, including two police officers. An official at the Colombo National Hospital who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to talk to the media claimed that two of the injured are in critical condition and that other people had suffered minor injuries.
After authorities lifted a nighttime curfew, thousands more demonstrators arrived in the city’s center from the outskirts. Due to a lack of gasoline, many people crammed onto buses and trains to get to the city to protest, while others traveled on foot and on bicycles.
Rajapaksa was urged to resign by protest and religious leaders who said he had lost the support of the populace.
According to Ven. Omalpe Sobitha, a well-known Buddhist leader, “His claim that he was elected by the Sinhala Buddhists is no longer legitimate.” He encouraged Parliament to meet right away to choose an interim leader but said that Wickremesinghe was unpopular with the populace.
Wickremesinghe said that the nation’s economy had collapsed last month. He claimed that due to Sri Lanka’s current financial situation, conversations with the IMF have been difficult.
Sri Lanka declared in April that it will put off repaying its international debt because of a lack of foreign cash. $51 billion is the total amount of its foreign debt, of which $28 billion must be repaid by the end of 2027.
On Friday night, police enforced a curfew in Colombo and many other major urban centers, but they lifted it early on Saturday morning when attorneys and opposition lawmakers objected, claiming it was unlawful.
On Friday, Julie Chung, the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, urged protestors to do so peacefully and urged the military and police to “provide nonviolent protesters the space and security to do so.”
In a tweet, Chung stated that “chaos & force would not restore the economy or offer the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now.”
A Facebook video from inside the president’s home showed hundreds of demonstrators cramming into rooms and hallways, some of whom were wearing the American flag.
While others relaxed on sofas and four-poster beds, several of them could be seen splashing around in the swimming pool on video footage. Images that were extensively shared on social media showed some emptying out a chest of drawers.
Hundreds of people were milling around the whitewashed colonial home’s grounds without any security officers in sight.
According to medical sources who spoke to Reuters, at least 39 individuals, including two police officers, were hurt and sent to the hospital during the demonstrations.
The 22 million-person island in the Indian Ocean is experiencing its biggest economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948 due to a severe foreign exchange shortage that has restricted imports of gasoline, food, and medication.
People are suffering as a result of the population’s spiraling inflation, which set a record high of 54.6 percent in June and is predicted to surpass 70 percent in the next months.
Sri Lanka is seeking a $3 billion rescue, the restructuring of some of its foreign debt, and fund-raising from multilateral and bilateral sources to address the dollar shortage. Political instability might jeopardize its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
“The situation is uncertain. The resignation of the president and prime minister would result in a power vacuum that might be disastrous if a clear transition is not made. A new all-party administration may be appointed by the Speaker, but it is unclear if the demonstrators would accept them “Kusal Perera, a political expert.
The crisis began after COVID-19 severely hurt the economy’s reliance on tourism and reduced remittances from foreign employees.
Excessive government debt, increased energy costs, and a prohibition on the import of artificial fertilizers last year that completely destroyed agriculture have all contributed to its aggravation. In November, the fertilizer embargo was lifted.
However, Rajapaksa’s economic mismanagement is widely regarded as the cause of the nation’s deterioration, and there have been months of generally peaceful rallies calling for his removal.
On Saturday, demonstrators destroyed a number of police barriers in Colombo’s government district before bursting into the premises.
The witness claimed that despite police shooting rounds in the air, the enraged mob continued to surround the presidential palace.
Demonstrators traveled from all regions of the nation in buses, trains, and trucks to get to Colombo for the weekend protest despite a severe fuel scarcity that has halted transportation services.
Since the cash-strapped nation ceased receiving fuel imports, forcing school closures and rationing of gasoline and diesel for basic services, discontent has gotten worse.
Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman, traveled 45 kilometers (24 miles) north of Colombo on a crowded bus to participate in the demonstration. Negombo is a beach town.
“We have repeatedly urged Gota (Rajapaksa) to return home, but he has managed to hold onto power. We won’t give up till he pays attention “said Perera.