Sri Lanka President to Step Down, Parliamentary Speaker says, Amid Storm of Protests
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Sri Lanka President to Step Down, Parliamentary Speaker says, Amid Storm of Protests

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 the prime minister’s home in Colombo.

 

The announcement came after a dramatic escalation in months of largely peaceful anti-government protests over a dire economic crisis on the Indian Ocean island of 22 million people.

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There was no immediate word from the president himself.

 

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a video statement Rajapaksa had informed him that he will step down from his post.

 

“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 news of president’s decision triggered an eruption of celebratory fireworks in parts of Colombo.

 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said he is willing to resign to make way for an all-party government, his office said in a statement on Saturday evening.

 

It was not yet clear if this would quell popular anger.

 

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.

 

Neither Rajapaksa nor Wickremesinghe were in their residences when the buildings were attacked.

 

Inside the president’s house during Saturday’s protests, 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.

 

Hundreds milled about in the grounds of the colonial-era whitewashed residence, with few security personnel in sight.

 

Rajapaksa had left the official residence on Friday as a safety precaution ahead of the planned weekend demonstration, two defense ministry sources said.

 

Reuters could not immediately confirm his whereabouts.

 

Later on Saturday, video footage on local news channels showed a huge fire and smoke coming from Wickremesinghe’s private home in an affluent Colombo neighborhood. His office said that protesters had started the fire.

 

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the blaze. Wickremesinghe had moved to a secure location, a government source told Reuters early in the day.

 

At least 39 people, including two police officers, were injured and hospitalized during the protests, hospital sources told Reuters.

 

The country is struggling under a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

 

Soaring inflation, which reached a record 54.6% in June and is expected to hit 70% in the coming months, has heaped hardship on the population.

 

CNBC

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