Sri Lanka crisis
Sri Lanka's Parliamant approves budget amid economic crisis
Sri Lanka's Parliament approved a budget Thursday that includes reforms aimed at improving the country's finances as it attempts to recover from its worst economic crisis. The 5.82 trillion rupee ($15 billion) budget includes a 43 billion rupee ($117 million) relief package for those affected by the crisis. The budget provides for a restructuring of state-owned enterprises, reduced subsidies for electricity, and tax increases to boost state revenue based on proposals by the International Monetary Fund under a preliminary $2.9 billion bailout plan. Read more: Bangladesh Bank asks banks to stop ACU transactions with Sri Lanka Unsustainable government debt, a severe balance of payments crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essentials such as fuel, medicine and food, and soaring prices have caused severe hardships for most Sri Lankans. Many have lost their jobs because businesses have become unsustainable. The government announced in April that it was suspending repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. It has since entered a preliminary agreement with the IMF, which has agreed to provide $2.9 billion over four years depending on the willingness of Sri Lanka's creditors to restructure their loans. Sri Lanka's total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion, of which $28 billion has to be repaid by 2027. The economic meltdown triggered a political crisis in which thousands of protesters stormed the official residence of the president in July, forcing then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and later resign. Read more: IMF agrees to provide crisis-hit Sri Lanka $2.9 billion President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has somewhat reduced the shortages of fuel and cooking gas, but power outages continue, along with shortages of imported medicines.
Schools reopen in Sri Lanka after closure from fuel shortages
Sri Lanka on Monday reopened government-owned public and state-approved private schools, which were closed for nearly a month due to fuel shortages. However, schools will be open only three days a week on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and students will be taught online on the other two days of the school week. The Ministry of Education also extended the first school term until September 7. Also read: Sri Lanka: The state strikes back Schools will also not conduct examinations at the end of the first term, and principals have been instructed to conduct alternative forms of evaluation. Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has instructed officials to provide fuel to school buses from all state-run fuel depots. There are close to 40,000 vehicles that are engaged in transporting students to schools in Sri Lanka. Also read: Group seeks ex-Sri Lankan president's arrest in Singapore
Sri Lankan president urged not to use force on protesters
An international human rights group is urging Sri Lanka’s new president to immediately order security forces to cease all unlawful use of force against protesters who have been demonstrating against the government — for months — over the country’s economic meltdown. A day after President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in Thursday, hundreds of armed troops raided a protest camp outside the president’s office in the early hours of Friday, attacking demonstrators with batons in a move that Human Rights Watch said “sends a dangerous message to the Sri Lankan people that the new government intends to act through brute force rather than the rule of law.” Two journalists and two lawyers were also attacked by soldiers in the crackdown. Security forces arrested 11 people, including protesters and lawyers. “Urgently needed measures to address the economic needs of Sri Lankans demand a government that respects fundamental rights,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement released early Saturday. Read: ‘I can’t forget her'- Myanmar’s soldiers admit atrocities “Sri Lanka’s international partners should send the message loud and clear that they can’t support an administration that tramples on the rights of its people,” she added. Wickremesinghe, who previously served as prime minister six times, was sworn in as president a week after his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fled the country after protesters stormed his residence. Rajapaksa later resigned while exiled in Singapore. Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months to demand their top leaders step down to take responsibility for the economic chaos that has left the nation’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food. While the protesters have focused on the Rajapaksa political dynasty, Wickremesinghe also has drawn their ire as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate. Armed troops and police arrived in trucks and buses on Friday to clear the main protest camp near the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators had gathered for more than 100 days. They removed tents and blocked roads leading to the site. The troops moved in even though protesters had announced they would vacate the site on Friday voluntarily. Sri Lanka’s opposition, the United Nations, and the U.S. have denounced the government’s heavy-handed tactics. Despite the heavy security now positioned outside the president’s office, protesters have vowed to continue their efforts until Wickremesinghe resigns. Wickremesinghe was voted president by lawmakers this week — apparently seen as a safe pair of hands to lead Sri Lanka out of the crisis, even though he, too, was a target of the demonstrations. On Friday, he appointed as prime minister a Rajapaksa ally, Dinesh Gunawardena, who is 73 and from a prominent political family. Read: Sri Lanka's new cabinet of ministers sworn in On Monday, when he was acting president, Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency giving him the power to change or suspend laws and giving authorities broad power to search premises and detain people. Overnight, just hours after he was sworn in, he issued a notice under the state of emergency calling on the armed forces to maintain law and order nationwide — clearing the way for the move against the protest camp. The protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful family of siphoning money from government coffers and of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but the former president acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to Sri Lanka’s crisis. The political turmoil has threatened to make a rescue from the International Monetary Fund more difficult. Still, earlier this week, Wickremesinghe said bailout talks with the fund were nearing a conclusion and talks on help from other countries had also progressed. The head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, told the Japanese financial magazine Nikkei Asia this week that the fund hopes for a deal “as quickly as possible.”
Sri Lanka: The state strikes back
Sri Lankan armed forces and law enforcers ordered by new President Ranil Wickremasinghe swooped down on the temporary camps set up by the protesters numbering in thousands and arrested hundreds. It was the first hit back by the state after the elections. Once state forces move in, crowds can’t sustain, unless the state itself is undergoing a transition. In Sri Lanka, it’s probably a continuation of the old regime in a new form that is on. Although there was much cheering when the Presidents and cronies fled as the Rajapakse regime crumbled, there was genuine concern that Sri Lanka was facing “anarchy” or sorts. If the crowds prevail, talks with fresh donors and lenders including the IMF would not happen. The army looked like the only force that had clout. By taking over the national TV and radio station, the army began protecting the establishment and the state. Now with the arrests, the next step has been taken. Crowds vs the formal state ? Most of the military top brass are actually protégés of the Rajapakses. Kamal Guneratne, the spokesperson of the army, was a top field commander in the final battle that defeated the Tamil Tigers movement in 2009. His superior at the time was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now the ex -President. So it’s obvious that senior commanders have many common grounds. It’s they who ensured a safe flight to the ex-Prez. Read: Is the pro-Chinese Left behind the Sri Lanka agitation? On July 10, NDTV of India reported that the Sri Lankan Army chief General Shavendra Silva had sought people's support to maintain peace. On July 13, the Sri Lanka army took over the state Television, radio stations and took up strategic positions. On 20th of July came the elections, Ranil came to power despite crowd protests that he had termed: fascists”. Two days later the crowd clearing began led by the army and supported by the police . “It’s always the economics, stupid” Sri Lanka’s struggle is with economics, a fact many ignore in the face of the political drama. On top of that it has become the new battle ground of Indo-China rivalry. New Delhi has so far given about $1.5 billion (€1.47 billion) to Colombo for funding imports of food, fuel, medicines and fertilizers. Plus another $3.8 billion in assistance in the form of currency swaps and credit lines. Beijing has given some 500 million yuan ($75 million, €73.35 million) in humanitarian aid and has promised to "play a positive role" in Sri Lanka's talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) But they are not seen as enough. China has also yet to respond to Colombo's appeal for debt relief. China is not interested in writing off its debt and the West certainly has been effective in demonizing China as the “Great debtor”. And India is working hard to be seen as Sri Lanka’s friend number one. It has got several contracts in Trincomalee and Colombo port zone making its return as a player possible. Read: Sri Lanka : Has the colonial democracy model run its course ? Sri Lanka has chosen to turn to India, the West and the IMF for relief. “Wickremesinghe is still hoping to form an India-China-West consortium to devise a recovery plan for Sri Lanka. But India and China are unlikely to be part of the same team, given their competing interests in Sri Lanka, “ says journalist P.K. Balachandran, based in Colombo. Both Sri Lanka and India are banking on the IMF bailout package. However, China is not about to give up easily though it’s playing with its cards close to the chest. Given the global economic scenario, expecting too much from the IMF seems unwise. But expecting China to give in what it sees as a foothold in the region is even less wise. Meanwhile the state seems more in control after a few months of extreme turmoil.
Sri Lankan forces make arrests, clear main protest site
Sri Lankan security forces arrested several people by early Friday and cleared the main camp protesters have occupied for more than three months while demanding the nation's leaders resign over an unprecedented economic collapse. Army and police personnel arrived in trucks and buses around midnight, removing tents and protest banners at the site near the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days. They blocked off roads leading to the site and carried long poles. The security forces were witnessed beating up at least two journalists. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main lawyers’ body in the country, also said at least two lawyers were assaulted when they went to the protest site to offer their counsel. Its statement Friday called for a halt to the “unjustified and disproportionate actions” of armed forces against civilians. Also read: Election of unpopular Sri Lankan PM invites more turmoil The move against the protesters followed the swearing-in Thursday of new President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was chosen by lawmakers earlier this week to finish the term of the leader who fled the country after protesters stormed his residence. He now has the power to chose a prime minister to succeed himself. The months of protests concentrated on the ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family's political dynasty, but Wickremesinghe has also drawn their ire as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate and an example of the country's problematic political establishment. Sri Lanka's economic chaos has left the nation's 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food. On Monday, in his role as acting president, Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency that gave him broad authority to act in the interest of public security and order. Authorities have broad power to search premises and detain people, and Wickremesinghe can change or suspend any law. On Friday, he issued a notice under the state of emergency calling out the armed forces to maintain law and order. The emergency must be reviewed by Parliament regularly to decide whether to extend it or let it expire. Also read: Wickremesinghe elected president in crisis-hit Sri Lanka Wickremesinghe, 73, has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been overseeing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund. He said Monday those discussions were near a conclusion and talks on help from other countries had also progressed. He also said the government has taken steps to resolve shortages of fuel and cooking gas.
Sri Lankan prime minister, 2 rivals in presidential race
Sri Lanka’s prime minister and acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, will face two rivals in a parliamentary vote Wednesday on who will succeed the ousted leader who fled the country last week amid huge protests triggered by its economic collapse. Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, is a seasoned politician with wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been leading crucial talks on an economic bailout package with the International Monetary Fund. He is backed by members of the fragmented ruling coalition, but is unpopular among voters who view him as a holdover from the previous government that led the country into economic catastrophe. The 73-year-old Wickremesinghe was appointed prime minister by deposed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in May to help restore Sri Lanka’s international credibility. The leading challenger, former government minister Dullas Alahapperuma, was nominated Tuesday by a breakaway faction of the ruling coalition after opposition leader Sajith Premadasa withdrew and said he would support him. “For the greater good of my country that I love and the people I cherish I hereby withdraw my candidacy for the position of president,” Premadasa said in a Twitter post. Read: Sri Lanka's political turmoil sows worries for recovery Marxist party leader Anura Dissanayake, 53, was also expected to contest Wednesday’s parliamentary vote. He also ran for president in 2019. Rajapaksa fled the country after protesters outraged by the crisis stormed his official residence and occupied other key public buildings. He later submitted his resignation via an email to the speaker of Parliament. Opponents of Wickremesinghe’s candidacy fear he represents an extension of the Rajapaksa rule and a potential comeback for the beleaguered political family. The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition against Wickremesinghe’s status as a lawmaker, clearing the path for him to run for president. He succeeded Rajapaksa’s younger brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as prime minister after he stepped down in response to massive public pressure. Wickremesinghe also took on the role of finance minister, becoming the public face of the country’s economic woes. He has delivered weekly addresses in Parliament, raised taxes and pledged to overhaul a government that increasingly has concentrated power under the presidency. Ultimately, observers say, he has lacked the political heft and public support to get the job done. Alahapperuma, 63, is viewed as a populist, with good public relations and communications skills. Even though he is a former government spokesman and has served in various posts including minister of information and mass media, minister of sports and minister of power under previous governments he previously was not considered for top leadership posts. A son of school administrators, he studied political science at the University of Iowa but did not earn a degree. He is married to a popular singer, Pradeepa Dharmadasa. Students and political activists said they planned protests Tuesday. Some intimidating posts circulating on social media warned lawmakers against returning to their constituencies if they vote for Wickremesinghe. Read: Sri Lanka's Parliament readies to accept names for president After the protesters briefly took over public buildings last week in startlingly dramatic scenes, Parliament was heavily guarded Tuesday by hundreds of soldiers, its entry points barricaded. Staff at Parliament and reporters were thoroughly searched before they were allowed to enter while navy boats patrolled the lake surrounding the building. Sri Lanka’s economy has collapsed, its foreign exchange reserves depleted, and it has suspended repayment of foreign loans. Its population is struggling with shortages of essentials including medicine, fuel and food while the government negotiates a bailout package with the IMF. It is preparing a loan restructuring plan as a prelude to talks. Rajapaksa’s exit last week marked at least a temporary dismantling of the Rajapaksa dynasty that had ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. Before the recent upheavals, six family members held high positions including president, prime minister and finance minister. All have lost their seats after public protests started in late March.
Sri Lanka begins choosing leader to replace ex-president
Sri Lankan lawmakers met Saturday to begin choosing a new leader to serve the rest of the term abandoned by the president who fled abroad and resigned after mass protests over the country’s economic collapse. A day earlier, Sri Lanka’s prime minister was sworn in as interim president until Parliament elects a successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose term ends in 2024. Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana promised a swift and transparent political process that should be done within a week. The new president could appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. Parliament’s secretary general, Dhammika Dasanayake, said during a brief session on Saturday that nominations for the election of the new president will be heard on Tuesday and if there is more than one candidate, the lawmakers will vote on Wednesday. Dasanayake also read Gotabaya’s resignation letter out loud in Parliament. In the letter, Rajapaksa says he was stepping down following requests by the people of Sri Lanka and political party leaders. He notes that the economic crisis was looming even when he took office in 2019 and was aggravated by frequent lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic. Security around the Parliament building in the capital, Colombo, was heightened on Saturday with armed masked soldiers on guard and roads near the building closed to the public. In a televised statement on Friday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would initiate steps to change the constitution to curb presidential powers and strengthen Parliament, restore law and order and take legal action against “insurgents.” Read: Sri Lankan president resigns, Parliament to convene It was unclear to whom he was referring, although he said true protesters would not have gotten involved in clashes Wednesday night near Parliament, where many soldiers reportedly were injured. “There is a big difference between protesters and insurgents. We will take legal action against insurgents,” he said. Wickremesinghe became acting president after Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on Wednesday and flew first to the Maldives and then to Singapore. Many protesters insisted that Wickremesinghe too should step aside. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader, who is seeking the presidency, vowed to “listen to the people” and to hold Rajapaksa accountable. In an interview with The Associated Press from his office, Sajith Premadasa said that if he wins the election in Parliament, he would ensure that “an elective dictatorship never, ever occurs” in Sri Lanka. “That’s what we should do. That is our function — catching those who looted Sri Lanka. That should be done through proper constitutional, legal, democratic procedures,” Premadasa said. Sri Lanka has run short of money to pay for imports of basic necessities such as food, fertilizer, medicine and fuel for its 22 million people. Its rapid economic decline has been all the more shocking because, before this crisis, the economy had been expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class. The protests underscored the dramatic fall of the Rajapaksa political clan that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. The Rev. Jeewantha Peiris, a Catholic priest and protest leader, said the country had “come through a hard journey.” “We are happy as a collective effort because this struggle of Sri Lanka was participated by all the citizens of Sri Lanka, even diaspora of Sri Lanka,” he said. Sri Lanka remains a powder keg, and the military warned Thursday that it had powers to respond in case of chaos — a message some found ominous. The speaker urged the public to “create a peaceful atmosphere” for the democratic process and for Parliament to “function freely and conscientiously.” Sri Lanka is seeking help from the International Monetary Fund and other creditors, but its finances are so poor that even obtaining a bailout has proven difficult, Wickremesinghe recently said. The protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers and of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to Sri Lanka’s meltdown. Maduka Iroshan, 26, a university student and protester, said he was “thrilled” that Rajapaksa had quit, because he “ruined the dreams of the young generation.” Months of protests reached a frenzied peak last weekend when demonstrators stormed the president’s home and office and Wickremesinghe’s official residence. On Wednesday, they seized his office. The demonstrators initially vowed to stay until a new government was in place, but they shifted tactics Thursday, apparently concerned that an escalation in violence could undermine their message following clashes outside Parliament that left dozens injured. Protester Mirak Raheem noted the lack of violence and said the work was far from over. “This is really something amazing, the fact that it happened on the back of largely peaceful protest. But obviously this is just a beginning,” Raheem said, citing work to rebuild the economy and restore public confidence in the political system. Rajapaksa and his wife slipped away in the night aboard a military plane early Wednesday. On Thursday, he went to Singapore, according to the city-state’s Foreign Ministry. It said he had not requested asylum, and it was unclear if he would stay or move on. He previously has obtained medical services there, including undergoing heart surgery. Since Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power, Rajapaksa likely wanted to leave while he still had constitutional immunity and access to the plane. As a military strategist whose brutal campaign helped end the country’s 26-year civil war, Rajapaksa and his brother, who was president at the time, were once hailed by the island’s Buddhist Sinhalese majority. Despite accusations of wartime atrocities, including ordering military attacks on ethnic Tamil civilians and abducting journalists, Rajapaksa remained popular among many Sri Lankans. He has continually denied the allegations.
Protesters retreat as Sri Lankan president sends resignation
Protesters retreated from government buildings Thursday in Sri Lanka, restoring a tenuous calm to the economically crippled country, and the embattled president at last emailed the resignation that demonstrators have sought for months. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled a day earlier under pressure from protesters enraged by the island nation’s economic collapse. He emailed his resignation a day later than promised, according to an official. But with a fractured opposition and confusion over who is in charge, a solution to the country's many woes seemed no closer following Rajapaksa’s departure. And the president has further angered the crowds by making his prime minister the acting leader. Protesters have pressed for both men to leave and for a unity government to address the economic calamity that has triggered widespread shortages of food, fuel and other necessities. The tentative way the resignation unfolded only added to turmoil. An aide to the speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament issued a statement that said the speaker had received the president's resignation through the Sri Lankan Embassy in Singapore, but there was no immediate official announcement. Also read: Sri Lankan president emails resignation, official says An announcement was planned for Friday after the authenticity and legality of the letter are verified, the statement said. As word of the resignation spread, jubilant crowds gathered near the president’s office to celebrate. Dozens of people danced and cheered and waved the Sri Lankan flag, and two men sang in Sinhalese on a small stage. The mood was festive, with people hooting and swaying to music while others chanted into a microphone that they wanted better governance. “To be validated like this is massive,” said Viraga Perera, an engineer who has been protesting since April. "On a global scale, we have led a movement that toppled a president with minimal force and violence. It’s a mix of victory and relief.” The protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers for years and his administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to the meltdown. Months of protests reached a frenzied peak over the weekend when demonstrators stormed the president’s home and office and the official residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. On Wednesday, they seized Wickremesinghe's office. Images of protesters inside the buildings — lounging on elegant sofas and beds, posing at officials' desks and touring the opulent settings — captured the world's attention. They initially vowed to hold those places until a new government was in place, but the movement shifted tactics Thursday, apparently concerned that any escalation in violence could undermine their message following clashes the previous night outside the Parliament that left dozens injured. “The fear was that there could be a crack in the trust they held for the struggle,” said Nuzly, a protest leader who goes by only one name. “We’ve shown what power of the people can do, but it doesn’t mean we have to occupy these places.” Devinda Kodagode, another protest leader, told The Associated Press they planned to vacate official buildings after Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana said he was exploring legal options for the country in the wake of Rajapaksa's departure. Visaka Jayaweer, a performing artist, described the bittersweet moment of closing the gate to the presidential palace after the crowds cleared out. “Taking over his residence was a great moment. It showed just how much we wanted him to step down. But it is also a great relief" to leave, she said. "We were worried if people would act out — many were angry to see the luxury he had been living in when they were outside, struggling to buy milk for their children.” Also read: Sri Lankan armed forces empowered to use force following clashes The country remains a powder keg, and the military warned Thursday that it had powers to respond in case of chaos — a message some found concerning. Troops in green uniforms and camouflage vests arrived in armored vehicles to reinforce barricades around the Parliament, while protesters vowed to continue holding rallies outside the president’s office until a new government was in place. The government announced another curfew in the capital of Colombo and its suburbs until early Friday. Some people ignored a previous curfew, but many others rarely leave their homes anyway because of fuel shortages. Rajapaksa and his wife fled Sri Lanka early Wednesday for the Maldives, slipping away in the night aboard a military plane. On Thursday, he went to Singapore, according to the city-state’s Foreign Ministry. It said he had not requested asylum. Since Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power it’s likely Rajapaksa wanted to plan his departure while he still had constitutional immunity and access to the plane. The protests underscored the dramatic fall of the Rajapaksa political clan that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. As a military strategist whose brutal campaign helped end the country's 26-year civil war, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, who was president at the time, were hailed by the island’s Buddhist Sinhalese majority. Despite accusations of wartime atrocities, including ordering military attacks on ethnic Tamil civilians and abducting journalists, Rajapaksa remained popular among many Sri Lankans. He has continually denied the allegations. The shortages of basic necessities have sown despair among Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. The country’s rapid decline was all the more shocking because, before the recent crisis, the economy had been expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class. It was not immediately clear if Singapore would be Rajapaksa's final destination, but he has previously sought medical care there, including undergoing heart surgery. Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president from their ranks on July 20 who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament.
Sri Lanka troops barricade Parliament against protesters
Military troops were moving Thursday to secure Sri Lanka’s parliament building against a takeover by protesters infuriated by the country’s economic collapse and the embattled president’s failure to resign a day after fleeing the country. With the country sinking into political chaos, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife fled to the Maldives on Wednesday aboard an air force jet. He made the prime minister acting president in his absence — a move that further roiled passions among a public that blames Rajapaksa for an economic crisis that has caused severe shortages of food and fuel. Rajapaksa had promised to resign by Wednesday night, and since Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power it’s likely he planned his departure while he still had constitutional immunity and access to a military jet. It was unclear exactly where he was in the Maldives, an archipelago of hundreds of islands dotted with luxury tourist resorts, and where he planned to travel next. Troops in green military uniforms and camouflage vests arrived by armored personnel carriers at the parliament building, anticipating more protests after a group attempted to storm the entrance the previous day, clashing with police who fended them off with tear gas and batons. Some protesters posted videos on social media pleading with others not to storm the Parliament, fearing an escalation of violence. On Wednesday, protesters who were undeterred by multiple rounds of tear gas scaled the walls to enter the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the crowd outside cheered in support and tossed water bottles to them. Protesters took turns posing at the prime minister’s desk or stood on a rooftop terrace waving the Sri Lankan flag. “We need both ... to go home,” said Supun Eranga, a 28-year-old civil servant in the crowd on Wednesday. “Ranil couldn’t deliver what he promised during his two months, so he should quit. All Ranil did was try to protect the Rajapaksas.” Read:Thousands protest against Sri Lanka's new acting president Demonstrators also have crowded inside the presidential palace they began occupying over the weekend and are vowing to stay in both buildings to press their demands for a new government. Some set fire to Wickremesinghe’s private residence, and his whereabouts were unknown. Wickremesinghe’s office has imposed a state of emergency giving broader powers to the military and police. Defense leaders have called for calm and cooperation with security forces — comments that have rankled some lawmakers who insist civilian leaders would be the ones to find a solution. The protesters blame Rajapaksa and his powerful, dynastic family for leading the country into an economic abyss, but they are also furious with Wickremesinghe, whom they accuse of protecting the president. Many believe that his appointment in May alleviated pressure on Rajapaksa to resign. Both leaders said after the protests escalated over the weekend that they would resign, but Wickremesinghe said he will not leave until a new government is in place. He has urged the speaker of Parliament to find a new prime minister agreeable to both the ruling and opposition parties. It’s unclear when that might happen since the opposition is deeply fractured. But assuming that Rajapaksa resigns as promised, Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president on July 20 who will serve the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in 2024. That person could potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament. The political impasse threatens to worsen the bankrupt nation’s economic collapse since the absence of an alternative government could delay a hoped-for bailout from the International Monetary Fund. In the meantime, the country is relying on aid from India and China. Protesters accuse the president and his relatives of siphoning money from government coffers for years and Rajapaksa’s administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the meltdown. The shortages of basic necessities have sown despair among Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. The country’s rapid decline was all the more shocking because, before the recent crisis, the economy had been expanding, with a growing, comfortable middle class. “Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved — but there are so many more,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old student of maritime electrical engineering, who is not related to the prime minister. He complained that Sri Lankan politics have been dominated for years by “old politicians” who all need to go. “Politics needs to be treated like a job — you need to have qualifications that get you hired, not because of what your last name is,” he said, referring to the Rajapaksa family. After the president fled to the Maldives the whereabouts of other Rajapaksa family members who had served in the government were unclear.
Sri Lanka's acting president declares nationwide curfew
Sri Lanka's acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday declared a nationwide curfew effective until Thursday morning. The order directs that no person shall be on any public road, railway, public park, public recreation ground or other public ground or the seashore in such areas till 5 a.m. on Thursday, except under the authority of a written permit granted by relevant authorities. Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe on Wednesday informed Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to nominate a prime minister who is acceptable to both the government and opposition. Protesters surrounded and entered the Prime Minister's Office in Colombo on Wednesday, calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe. Read:Thousands protest against Sri Lanka's new acting president Rajapaksa, who left for the Maldives earlier on Wednesday, was expected to hand in his resignation from the presidency later in the day amid a severe economic crisis.