Sri Lanka‘s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will step down next Wednesday, the country’s parliamentary speaker said on Saturday
An apparent capitulation to popular pressure after a day of violent protests in which demonstrators stormed the president’s official residence and set fire to prime minister’s home
House Speaker announce that the president will step down on July 13
Thousands of protesters storm president’s house, office
Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe‘s private home was set on fire
Wickremesinghe has also announced he is willing to resign to make way for an all-party government
Protesters earlier stated they would not leave, until the president actually steps down
Sri Lanka‘s president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, will step down next Wednesday, the country’s parliamentary speaker said on Saturday, bowing to popular pressure after a day of violent protests in which demonstrators stormed the president’s official residence and set fire to sections of prime minister Wickremesinghe’s residence.
In a parallel gesture, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced he is willing to resign to make way for an all-party government, his office said in a statement on Saturday evening. However, it was not yet clear if this would quell popular anger raging through the country.
The announcement, following the dramatic escalation in months of largely peaceful anti-government protests over a dire economic crisis on the Indian Ocean island of 22 million people, triggered an eruption of celebratory fireworks in the city.
Emerging images from the ongoing protests in the capital city of Colombo, show total anarchy where President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence was overrun by furious protesters. Scenes of crowds cavorting on his four-poster bed and in his swimming pool and gym, as well as sections of the Prime Minister’s official residence in Colombo, up in flames.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a video statement that Rajapaksa had informed him that he would step down from his post on Wednesday.
“The decision to step down on 13 July, was taken to ensure a peaceful handover of power,” Abeywardena said.
“I therefore request the public to respect the law and maintain peace,” he said.
The roots of the wide spread unrest in Sri Lanka has been can be traced to public dissatisfaction with president’s policies in agriculture.
In his 2019 manifesto, Rajapaksa pledged to transform Sri Lanka into an ‘organic’ nation within a decade – reducing and eventually banning chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.
However, the road to hell was paved with good intentions as fertilizer free farming has led to tumbling food production tumbling over a cliff. For the nation, going green meant going hungry.
In 2020, Covid struck, dealing a further crippling blow to Sri Lanka’s finances with the vital tourism industry to grind to a halt, wrecking havoc on the economy and grinding hardship on the population. Record inflation, which reached a high 54.6% last month is expected to hit 70% in the coming months.
As much as the government refused to abandon the campaign pledge which had the manifest effect of hobbling agriculture with eco-strictures, Rajapaksa government doubled down. In April 2021, the government announced a total and immediate ban on fertilizer, to the outrage of Sri Lanka’s two million farmers.
The policy won accolades at the Glasgow’s Cop26 conference that November, where Rajapaksa was lauded as a green torch-bearer for developing nations. ttt
Sri Lanka security forces fire tear gas at protesters in Colombo
The perfect storm coalesced with Covid induced dearth tourism creating dwindling foreign cash reserves as Rajapaksa’s green revolution spurred drastic cost-cutting. The downside is that farmers couldn’t produce the required yields to support the country’s food needs.
Sri Lanka feeds itself with rice. In the six months following the fertilizer ban, domestic production collapsed by 20 per cent, while prices rose 50 per cent. The tea crop was also devastated: the country’s most important export, and from which the lost revenue outweighed any savings made by not importing fertilizers.
But today, the misery it inflicted on Sri Lanka’s people can be read in the smoke signals billowing from the presidential palace.
Throughout the day, soldiers and police were unable to hold back a crowd of chanting protesters demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation and blaming him for the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.
Police fired shots in the air but were unable to stop the crowd from surrounding the presidential residence, a witness said.
Neither Rajapaksa nor Wickremesinghe were in their residences when the buildings were attacked.
Inside the president’s whitewashed colonial-era residence, a Facebook livestream showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in the national flag, packing into rooms and corridors.
Video footage showed some of them splashing in the swimming pool, while others sat on a four-poster bed and sofas. Some could be seen emptying out a chest of drawers in images that were widely circulated on social media.
Rajapaksa had left on Friday as a safety precaution ahead of the planned weekend demonstration, two defense ministry sources said.
Later on Saturday, local news video footage showed a huge fire and smoke coming from PM Wickremesinghe’s private home in an affluent Colombo neighborhood. His office blamed the fire on protesters.
Hospital sources said 39 people so far, including two police officers, have been treated for injuries. However, there were no immediate reports of injuries in the blaze, while the PM had moved to a secure location, according to government sources.
Sri Lanka’s protest movement occupy residences until resignations. Already the protests has forced the resignation of Sri Lanka’s president.
Cramming on to the grand staircase, diving into the swimming pool and joining in a piano singalong – these are Sri Lankan protesters after storming the house of their president.
The raucous weekend uprising was enough to force the resignation of Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister, as months of frustration brought on by an unprecedented economic crisis finally boiled over.
At the core of the catastrophe was president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ban on imported fertilizers to force a switch to purely organic farming. The policy backfired spectacularly as farming yields collapsed.
The outcome is that Rajapaksa’s residence in Colombo was invaded after tens of thousands had gathered outside to protest. Some enjoyed pillow fights in the presidential bedrooms or games of cricket down lengthy corridors, while others tried out the well-equipped gym.
A few, meanwhile, looked like they may have raided the drinks cabinet as they were spotted snoozing on the lawns in the next morning. The president whose corrupt rule and eccentric policies have been blamed for bringing Sri Lanka’s financial collapse, had refused to stand down but was left with no option once his home was occupied.
The protesters have vowed not to vacate the presidential residence until the president actually leaves office. Rajapaksa who allegedly, has taken refuge in a boat offshore, on Wednesday pledged to step down.
The decision by the president and prime minister to step aside came after Wickremesinghe held talks with several political party leaders to decide what steps to take following the unrest.
“Wickremesinghe has told the party leaders that he is willing to resign as Prime Minister and make way for an all-party government to take over,” his office said in a statement.
The parliamentary speaker, Abeywardena, said in a letter to Rajapaksa that several decisions had been made at the meeting of party leaders, including the president and the prime minister resigning as soon as possible and parliament being called within seven days to select an acting president.
“Under the acting president the present parliament can appoint a new prime minister and an interim government,” said the letter released by the Speaker’s office.
“Afterwards under a set time an election can be held for the people to elect a new parliament,” it added. Opposition parties were also meeting Sunday to thrash out an agreement that may allow them to govern before new elections are held
The economic crisis developed after the COVID-19 pandemic hammered the tourism-reliant economy and slashed remittances from overseas workers.
It has been compounded by the build-up of hefty government debt, rising oil prices and a ban on the import of chemical fertilizers last year that devastated agriculture.
Incidentally, the Rajapaksa administration reversed the fertilizer ban in November. Still, many blame the country’s decline on economic mismanagement by Rajapaksa.
Discontent has increased in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country stopped receiving fuel shipments, forcing school closures and rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services.
The International Monetary Fund, which has been in talks with the Sri Lankan government over a possible $3 billion bailout, said it was monitoring events closely.
The country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades also saw a severe shortage of foreign currency – blamed on past corruption and the collapse of tourism through Covid – that has stalled imports of food, fuel and medicines.