What’s going on in Sri Lanka?

The situation remains unclear in Sri Lanka, where President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to step down this week after being forced to leave his mansion taken over by a mob following massive protests in Colombo.

On Sunday, the United States urged the country’s future leaders to “act quickly” to find solutions to worsening economic conditions, “including shortages of electricity, food and fuel,” a State Department spokesman said.

“The President has said he will step down on July 13 to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Mahinda Abiwardana said in a televised statement.

Two people close to the president have resigned: press chief Sudeva Hitiyarashi and information minister Pandola Gonawardana, who also resigned as head of the presidential party.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, next in line after Rajapaksa, immediately called an emergency government meeting in search of a “quick fix” to the crisis, inviting political party leaders to join the meeting.

He expressed his willingness to step down to make way for a government of national unity. But this situation failed to calm the protesters, who broke into the prime minister’s house and set it on fire.

President Rajapaksa, 73, managed to escape minutes before hundreds of protesters entered the presidential residence, which was normally reserved for receptions but moved there in April after his private home was stormed.

Soldiers guarding the official headquarters fired into the air to contain the demonstrators until the president and his entourage, who boarded the warship, were evacuated to territorial waters in the south of the island.

However, a military source indicated that Rajapaksa was due to arrive on Sunday at the Trincomalee naval base in the northeast of the island.

After midnight on Saturday, Chief of Staff General Chavendra Silva called for calm on television, stressing that “there is an opportunity to resolve the crisis in a peaceful and constitutional way.”

Colombo National Hospital, the capital’s main hospital, reported 105 injured after Saturday’s protests, while 55 were still receiving treatment on Sunday. There are 7 journalists among the wounded. “One person is in a very serious condition after being injured,” said a spokeswoman for the hospital, Pushpa Suissa.

On Sunday, protesters who occupied the presidential palace said they would not leave until the president stepped down.

“Our fight is not over yet,” student leader Lahiru Warasekara said, adding, “We won’t give up this fight until he really leaves.”

Student activists said they found 17.8 million rupees (€48,000) in President Rajapaksa’s room and handed it over to the police.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Colombo to demand the resignation of Rajapaksa. The protesters also clashed with the police, who tried to disperse them with tear gas.

Local TV channels showed footage of hundreds of people climbing the gates of the presidential palace. The demonstrators also posted videos on social media of crowds roaming the palace while some jumped into the pool inside the complex and others roamed the bedrooms.

Sri Lanka was a middle-income country with a standard of living that India would envy, but it has been affected by the loss of tourism revenue following the 2019 jihadist attack and then the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unprecedented economic crisis since the independence of this island of 22 million people in 1948 has been exacerbated by a series of bad political decisions that have been blamed on the ruling presidential family since 2005.

Source: AFP.

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