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Home World News Washington Post World News Chaos in Sri Lanka after protesters take prime minister’s office

Chaos in Sri Lanka after protesters take prime minister’s office



COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Protesters stormed the office of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on Wednesday and took to the streets of the capital to demand the ouster of the island’s top leaders as a deadline for the president’s promised resignation arrived.

Tensed clashes broke out in the early afternoon as security forces in riot gear fired multiple tear gas canisters at protesters who climbed the walls and security towers of the prime minister’s grounds. Each time the troops fired tear gas, the crowd chanted, “Victory in battle!”

The crowd broke through metal gates and then through the front gate. The security forces – police and military – stepped aside as the crowd erupted in joy.

Sri Lankan police fired tear gas at protesters outside the prime minister’s office in Colombo on July 13 after the president fled to the Maldives. (Video: Reuters)

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country early Wednesday, accompanied by his wife in an air force plane that took them to the Maldives, defense officials said. “We are obligated to protect the Constitution, and the request for the plane fell within the constitutional powers of the President,” said Group Capt. Dushan Wijesinghe, an Air Force spokesman.

Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the Speaker of Parliament, said at a press conference that Rajapaksa has appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president in his absence. Wickremesinghe had previously offered to resign as prime minister, though he did not provide a timeline.

The speaker reiterated Rajapaksa’s intention to step down on Wednesday, but his decision to shift responsibility to the prime minister added to the chaos that engulfed the country.

The crowd outside the Prime Minister’s office was mostly made up of young university students, many of whom had come to Colombo from other cities. “We want all 225 [lawmakers] to go,” said Lahiru Madusanka, 24, who was standing at a gate when he was hit by tear gas. “We’ve seen the same people all our lives.”

Many said they came after seeing footage of the crackdown on protesters.

“We’re expecting cooking gas, but we’re getting tear gas,” said Luke John, a pastor at a local church who was there with a friend to show solidarity with the movement. “The government forced us to do that.”

“Go home, Gota,” cried Neyomal Wijesundara, 49, who had come with his wife. As a former director of a travel company, he lost his job during the economic downturn. “We want to rid our country of corrupt politicians.”

Even as the celebrations broke out after the takeover of the prime minister’s office, volunteers formed human chains to let people in in an orderly manner. Excited citizens stepped into the corridors of power, most of them for the first time.

Some collected garbage, others handed out cookie packets. As rows of army personnel began to filter out of the office, there was loud booing and booing.

Disgraced Sri Lankan president flees early in the morning to step down

Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in the western province of the country, including Colombo. He said he had asked the armed forces to take action to restore order, raising fears that the violence could escalate. Commenting on the takeover of his office, he said: “We cannot allow people who want to override the constitution to occupy the offices and houses. We also need to protect civilians.”

Rajapaksa, 73, had refused to step aside for months, even despite mounting public anger against his family, who many blame for the country’s economic demise. But the dramatic takeover of his home last Saturday by thousands of protesters forced him to make a decision. Ignoring concerns about possible arrests, the protesters frolicked in the president’s pool and cooked meals in his kitchen.

The legendary Rajapaksa dynasty has dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades. But the last years of the family’s rule were marred by allegations of corruption and disastrous economic policies. The country is ravaged by record inflation and drug shortages, and it is running out of fuel and money to pay for it.

With a frustrated public seeking a settlement, it is unclear what will happen to the Rajapaksa family. Many citizens are demanding that Rajapaksa and his family members be tried for corruption.

“He fled like a coward without apologizing to the country,” said Hirushi Lakshika, a 25-year-old protester.

On Tuesday, the president’s brother, former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, was banned from fleeing the country on a flight to Dubai. The Hindu newspaper reported that the United States rejected a recent visa request from the president. The US State Department declined to comment.

Sri Lankan president to resign next week, parliament speaker says after protesters storm residence

Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades, with millions of people struggling to survive. The economy has “completely collapsed” and the country is “bankrupt,” Wickremesinghe told parliament in recent days.

While the coronavirus pandemic was a huge factor, with lockdowns crashing into the tourism industry on which many workers depend, the Rajapaksa government’s policies also proved highly damaging. Among them were heavy tax cuts and an overnight ban on chemical fertilizers that paralyzed agricultural production.

Anti-government demonstrations started months ago, first Expelling the president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as prime minister and then forcing other family members out of cabinet positions.

But as the fuel shortage grew, schools and offices were closed. In a desperate attempt to avert impending food shortages, the government asked workers to grow food at home. Rajapaksa unsuccessfully asked Russia for fuel credit and Wickremesinghe tried to negotiate a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund.

Aid agencies have warned the country needs millions of dollars food aid† The Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on global oil and grain prices have exacerbated the misery in Sri Lanka

In the stately compound from the colonial era where Rajapaksa lived amid elegance and lush gardens, the past few days resembled a carnival. The protesters who took over there were left behind over the weekend.

Prasad Sinniah, 40, a marketing professional, was there Monday night with his children. “We wanted them all gone,” he said of the Rajapaksa family. “We lived comfortably until all this happened. Now it is a daily struggle.”

What to know about the unrest in Sri Lanka

Rajapaksa, a former military officer, lived in the United States for several years before returning to Sri Lanka in 2005. Mahinda Rajapaksa, then president, appointed him as a senior defense official to oversee the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Tamil separatist group in the north of the country.

By 2009, Sri Lankan troops had crushed the group, ending a 26-year civil war and emerging as heroes to the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. Human rights groups have accused the two brothers of committing war crimes, especially in the final and bloodiest phase of the war. The couple denied wrongdoing and were never charged.

Inside the Collapse of the Rajapaksa Dynasty in Sri Lanka

The government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa lost power in 2015. Four years later, the family made a comeback.

After suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State that killed more than 250 people, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president following an aggressive campaign targeting national security and hard-line Sinhala nationalism. As president, he sought to increase his power by amending the constitution to grant himself the power to appoint judges and allow dual nationals to serve in parliament.

The latter paved the way for his brother Basil, a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the United States, to take over the post of Finance Minister.

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