Home / World / Gotabaya Rajapaksa emails quit letter, Sri Lankans erupt in joy

Gotabaya Rajapaksa emails quit letter, Sri Lankans erupt in joy

Announcement triggers jubilation in Colombo where protesters massed outside the presidential secretariat, defying a city-wide curfew
Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Gotabaya Rajapaksa
File Photo

Reuters   |   Colombo   |   Published 15.07.22, 02:02 AM

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa submitted a letter of resignation on Thursday, a spokesperson for the parliament Speaker said, hours after fleeing to Singapore following mass protests over an economic meltdown.

Rajapaksa submitted his resignation by email late on Thursday and it would become official on Friday, once the document had been legally verified, the Speaker’s spokesperson said.

The announcement triggered jubilation in commercial capital Colombo where protesters massed outside the presidential secretariat, defying a city-wide curfew.

Crowds set off firecrackers, shouted slogans and danced ecstatically at the Gota Go Gama protest site, named mockingly after Rajapaksa’s first name.

“The whole country will celebrate today,” Damitha Abeyrathne, an activist, said. “It’s a big victory.”

“We never thought we would get this country free from them,” Abeyrathne added, referring to the Rajapaksa family who dominated the South Asian country’s politics for two decades.

Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on Wednesday, then headed on to Singapore on Thursday on a Saudi Arabian airline flight.

A passenger on the flight, who declined to be named, told Reuters that Rajapaksa was met by a group of security guards and was seen leaving the airport VIP area in a convoy of black vehicles.

Airline staff on the flight told Reuters the President, dressed in black, flew business class with his wife and two bodyguards, describing him as “quiet” and “friendly”.

Singapore’s foreign ministry said Rajapaksa had entered the country on a private visit, and had not sought or been granted asylum.

His decision on Wednesday to make his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe the acting President triggered more protests, with demonstrators storming the parliament and the Premier’s office demanding that he quit too.

“We want Ranil to go home,” Malik Perera, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who took part in the parliament protests, said on Thursday. “They have sold the country, we want a good person to take over, until then we won’t stop.”

Protests against the economic crisis have simmered for months and came to a head last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the powerful Rajapaksa family and allies for runaway inflation, shortages of basic goods, and corruption.

Inside the President’s residence early on Thursday, ordinary Sri Lankans wandered the halls, taking in the building’s extensive art collection, luxury cars and swimming pool.

“The fight is not over,” said Terance Rodrigo, a 26-year-old student who said he had been inside the compound since it was taken over by protesters on Saturday along with the Prime Minister’s official residence.

“We have to make society better than this. The government is not solving people’s problems.”

The usual protest sites, however, were calm and organisers handed back the President and Prime Minister’s residences to the government on Thursday evening.

“With the President out of the country..., holding the captured places holds no symbolic value anymore,” Chameera Dedduwage, one of the organisers, told Reuters.

But another organiser, Kalum Amaratunga, said a crackdown could be imminent after Wickremesinghe branded some protesters ”fascists” in an address the previous evening.

The government imposed a curfew in Colombo from noon on Thursday to early morning on Friday in a bid to prevent further unrest. Local media showed armoured vehicles with soldiers atop patrolling the city’s streets. The military said troops were empowered to use force to protect people and public property.

The police said one person was killed and 84 injured in clashes between riot police and protesters on Wednesday near the parliament and the Prime Minister’s office, as people demanded the ouster of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.

The army said two soldiers were seriously injured when they were attacked by protesters near the parliament on Wednesday evening and that their weapons and magazines were snatched.

The police said the man who died was a 26-year-old protester who succumbed after he was injured near the Premier’s office.

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