President flees to Maldives; protesters storm PM office
Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as angry protesters stormed the prime minister’s office in Colombo, hours after president Gotabaya Rajapksa fled to the Maldives on a military jet, amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
Rajapaksa, the 73-year-old leader who had promised to resign on Wednesday, appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting President hours after he fled the country, escalating the political crisis and triggering a fresh wave of protests.
Announcing that Rajapaksa has appointed Wickremesinghe to act to perform his functions while he is abroad, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said he has informed him over the telephone that he will resign today as promised. The speaker also said the vote for the new president will take place on July 20.
In a special televised statement, Wickremesinghe declared a nationwide emergency and imposed a curfew in the city and surrounding areas. “We must end this fascist threat to democracy. We can’t allow the destruction of state property. The President’s Office, the President’s Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s official residence must be returned to proper custody,” he said.
“Those who are in my office want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president. We can’t let them tear up our Constitution. We can’t allow fascists to take over…,” Wickremesinghe said.
He said he has instructed the security forces to enforce the emergency and curfew to bring the situation to normalcy, adding that a committee comprising the heads of armed forces has been given the responsibility of doing so with zero political intervention.
However, the development enraged anti-government protesters, who wanted both the President and Prime Minister to quit over mishandling the economy.
Thousands of protesters waving Lankan flags defied the emergency and surrounded the building of the PM Office. The police fired tear gas on protesters who broke through a barricade and stormed the prime minister’s office, calling for his resignation.
Sri Lanka’s state-owned television channel Rupavahini briefly suspended its telecast on Wednesday as protesters stormed the building.
Also, a second state television channel went off the air, less than an hour after Rupavahini suspended its operations.