President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flees Sri Lanka amid economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s president fled the country early Wednesday, days after protesters stormed his home and office and the official residence of his prime minister amid a three-month economic crisis that has led to severe food shortages. and fuel.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards departed aboard a Sri Lankan Air Force plane bound for the Maldivian capital city of Male, according to an immigration official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. .

Rajapaksa had agreed to resign under pressure. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would leave once a new government was established.

Lawmakers agreed to elect a new president next week, but struggled on Tuesday to decide on the composition of a new government to lift the bankrupt country out of economic and political collapse.

Promised resignations did not end the crisis, and protesters have vowed to occupy official buildings until their top leaders leave. For days, people have flocked to the presidential palace almost like a tourist attraction, swimming in the pool, marveling at the paintings and lounging on pillow-filled beds. At one point, they also burned down the private home of the prime minister.

While lawmakers agreed Monday night to choose a new president from their ranks on July 20, they have yet to decide who will take over as prime minister and fill out the cabinet.

The new president will serve out the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024, and could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by parliament.

The prime minister will serve as president until a replacement is chosen, an arrangement that is sure to further anger protesters who want Wickremesinghe out immediately.

Corruption and mismanagement have left the debt-laden island nation unable to pay for imports of essential items, causing despair among its 22 million people. Sri Lankans are skipping meals and queuing for hours to try to buy scarce fuel, a harsh reality in a country whose economy had been growing rapidly and had a growing and affluent middle class, until the latest crisis deepened.

The political stalemate added fuel to the economic crisis, as the absence of an alternative unity government threatened to delay the long-awaited International Monetary Fund bailout. The government must present a plan on debt sustainability to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Meanwhile, the country relies on help from neighboring India and China.

When asked if China was in talks with Sri Lanka about possible loans, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official gave no indication if such discussions were taking place.

China will continue to offer assistance as our ability enables Sri Lanka’s social development and economic recovery, said spokesman Wang Wenbin. Regarding its debt to China, we support the relevant financial institutions to find a suitable solution through consultations with Sri Lanka.

On Tuesday, Sri Lankan religious leaders urged protesters to leave the government buildings they are occupying if Rajapaksa resigns as he promised on Wednesday. The protesters have vowed to wait until both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe are out of office.

After the storming of government buildings, it became clear that there is a consensus in the country that government leadership must change, said Jehan Perera, executive director of the Sri Lanka National Peace Council, a think tank.

Months of demonstrations have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the last two decades.

Protesters accuse the president and his relatives of siphoning money from government coffers for years and the Rajapaksa administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied allegations of corruption, but Rajakpaksa acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to the collapse.

The president had not been seen or heard from since Saturday, though his office issued statements indicating he was continuing to carry out his duties.

(Only the headline and image in this report may have been modified by Business Standard staff; all other content is auto-generated from a syndicated source.)

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