Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after president flees to Maldives

11:27

Wednesday 13 July 2022

(BBC):

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka in a military plane amid mass protests over the country’s economic crisis.

The Sri Lankan air force has confirmed that the 73-year-old president traveled to the Maldives with his wife and two security officials.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a nationwide state of emergency and a curfew imposed in the western province, a spokesman for his office said.

The president and his entourage arrived in the capital, Mali, around 3am local time, the BBC has learned.

With Rajapaksa’s departure, the dynasty that ruled Sri Lanka for decades ends.

The president hid after crowds stormed his home on Saturday, promising to resign on Wednesday, July 13th.

A source told the BBC Rajapaksa would not stay in the Maldives and intended to travel to another country.

His brother, former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, has left Sri Lanka and is reportedly on his way to the United States.

As Sri Lankans woke up to the news, thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, Colombo.

Many gathered at Galle Face Green, the city’s main protest site. Some heard fiery speeches delivered from a temporary platform set up for ordinary people to give their speeches.

It was interspersed with cries of “victory for the battle”, amid crowds of the protest movement, and speakers criticizing the government and leaders who felt they had let them down.

Some protesters were angry about Rajapaksa’s departure as they tried to hold him accountable.

“We do not like it. We want him to stay. We want our money back! We want to put the whole Rajapaksa family in an open prison, where they can do agricultural work,” protester JP Nimal said.

But 23-year-old university student Rishani Samarkon told the BBC that the former president’s exile “offers hope that we can become an economically and socially advanced country in the future”.

Sri Lankans blame President Rajapaksa’s administration for the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Sri Lankans have struggled for months with daily power outages and shortages of basic items such as fuel, food and medicine.

It is believed that the president, who enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office, wanted to flee abroad before retiring to avoid possible arrest by the new administration.

Sri Lanka: basic information

Sri Lanka is an island along southern India: it gained its independence from British rule in 1948. Three ethnic groups – Sinhalese, Tamils ​​and Muslims – make up 99% of the country’s population of 22 million.

One family of brothers for years: Mahinda Rajapaksa became a hero among the Sinhalese majority in 2009 when his government defeated Tamil separatist rebels after years of bitter and bloody civil war. His brother Gotabaya, who was then Minister of Defense, is the current president.

Presidential powers: The president is the head of state, government and army of Sri Lanka, but shares many of the executive responsibilities with the Prime Minister leading the ruling party in Parliament.

Now an economic crisis has led to anger in the streets: high inflation has led to a shortage of food, medicine and fuel, there are constant power outages, and ordinary people have taken to the streets in a rage, with many joining the Rajapaksa family and their government for the situation.

The president’s departure threatens a potential power vacuum in the country, which needs a functioning government to help begin its financial downfall.

Politicians from other parties are talking about forming a new national unity government, but there are no indications that they are so far close to an agreement. It is also not clear whether the public will accept their findings.

According to the constitution, it is the prime minister who must act in place of the president if the latter resigns. The Prime Minister is considered the Vice President of Parliament.

But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is not very popular. Protesters set fire to his private home on Saturday, but neither he nor his family were inside. Wickremesinghe said he would resign to make way for a national unity government, but he did not set a date for the resignation.

Constitutional experts say this makes the speaker of parliament the most likely person to take over the presidency. But the Speaker of Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abhiwardena, is an ally of the Rajapaksa family. It is unclear whether the public will accept his authority.

Regardless of who will temporarily take over as president, he will have 30 days to hold an election to elect a new president from the parliament. The winner of that vote can then relinquish the rest of the state of Rajapaksa until late 2024.

The main opposition leader, Sajith Premadasa, told the BBC on Monday that he would be elected president. But it also lacks popular support, and there is a deep public suspicion towards politicians in general.

The protest movement that has brought Sri Lanka to the brink of change also does not have a clear candidate to lead the country.

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