Sri Lankan protesters end occupations, president flees to Singapore
A crowd invaded the presidential palace over the weekend and the protests forced the head of state, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to flee to the Maldives.
Protesters against the government of Sri Lanka announced this Thursday (14) the end of the occupation of public buildings, but promised to continue pressing for the president – who left the Maldives and fled to Singapore – to resign in the face of the serious economic and political crisis.
A crowd broke into the presidential palace over the weekend and protests forced the head of state, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to flee to the Maldives on Wednesday, as activists entered the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
This Thursday, the president of Sri Lanka left the Maldives on a Saudi airline plane bound for Singapore.
The island’s population of nearly 22 million is facing shortages of essential products due to the lack of foreign exchange for imports. Protesters attribute the crisis to Rajapaksa’s mismanagement.
The president, his wife Ioma and two bodyguards were escorted to a plane minutes before takeoff from Velana International Airport in Malé, capital of the Maldives.
According to security forces sources, the president would remain in Singapore for some time, before heading to the United Arab Emirates.
As head of state, he enjoys immunity and cannot be arrested. It is speculated that he fled abroad before resigning to avoid arrest.
Security forces sources in Colombo said the resignation letter has already been prepared and will be released after Rajapaksa’s authorization.
After months of protests, protesters stormed the president’s official residence on Saturday and forced him to flee the country. In the following days, the office of the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was also raided.
But on Thursday, a spokesman for the protesters announced the end of the occupation.
“We peacefully left the Presidential Palace, the secretariat of the presidency and the prime minister’s office with immediate effect, but we will continue with our fight,” he said.
The prime minister, who was appointed by the president as interim head of state in his absence, called for protesters to leave public buildings and ordered security forces to do “what is necessary to restore order”.
A leading Buddhist monk who supported the protests has called for the more than 200-year-old presidential palace to be returned to the authorities to ensure the conservation of the valuable works of art.
“This building is a national treasure and must be protected,” said monk Omalpe Sobitha. “A proper audit must take place and the property must be returned to the state.”
Since the president’s escape, the complex has been open to the public and thousands of people have passed through the official residence.
The curfew was lifted in the early hours of Thursday. Police said a soldier and an agent were injured during clashes near Parliament.
Colombo’s main hospital said 85 people had been admitted with injuries on Wednesday and that a man had suffocated to death after inhaling tear gas in the prime minister’s office.
boos and insults
Maldives media reported that the Sri Lankan president was booed and insulted as he arrived at the airport on Wednesday.
A group organized a protest to demand that the local government not authorize their presence on the island.
Before heading to Singapore, he spent the night in a luxury hotel in the Maldives, an opulence that contrasts with the great crisis experienced by his compatriots: 80% of Sri Lankans have to skip a meal a day due to the catastrophic economic situation.
The country declared a $51 billion debt moratorium in April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund.
The lack of foreign exchange caused a shortage of fuel that leaves the country practically paralyzed.
Diplomatic sources say that Rajapaksa wants to obtain a US visa, but that attempts have so far failed because he renounced US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.