Sri Lanka reimposes curfew in Western Province, no signs of Rajapaksa’s resignation

Colombo,: Sri Lankan authorities on Thursday reimposed curfew in the Western Province as confusion sparked over President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation after he fled the country 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.

At least 84 people were hospitalised when protesters clashed with the security forces at the prime minister’s office and at the main access junction to Parliament since Wednesday afternoon after Rajapaksa fled the country.

The police fired tear gas and water cannons at the mob who were trying to break barriers and enter the restricted zone.

The police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa said protesters had grabbed a T56 firearm and 60 bullets from a Sri Lanka Army soldier. A police complaint had been lodged, the police said.

Authorities on Wednesday imposed a curfew in the Western Province following the eruption of violence. The curfew was lifted in the morning. But it had to be reimposed amid fears of violence as there was no word from Rajapaksa on his resignation.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that he informed President Rajapaksa to submit his letter of resignation as soon as possible, citing that he too is under pressure, News First Lanka reported on Thursday.

He said that since an acting President has been appointed, the Office of the Speaker is exploring the legal provisions to consider the option of “have vacated his post” if the President does not tender in his letter of resignation, the report added.

A spokesperson from the Sri Lanka Parliament said that given that the President had not yet tendered his letter of resignation, it is uncertain if Parliament would be convened on Friday.

The Prime Minister’s Media Division on Wednesday said that the acting President has informed Speaker Abeywardena to nominate a Prime Minister who is acceptable to both the Government and Opposition.

Wednesday’s protests were more directed at Wickremesinghe. Calls for his resignation intensified after he was appointed the acting president.

Political party leaders are asking him to step down so that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena can take control as acting president.

Wickremesinghe in a statement asked the Speaker to find a suitable nominee to become the prime minister in an all-party interim government.

However, the protesters have demanded that the interim government must only consist of politicians acceptable to them.

Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa left the Maldives for Singapore, sources said.

Rajapaksa failed to board the Singapore-bound flight from Male due to security concerns on Wednesday night.

Rajapaksa reportedly had raised security concerns about taking a civilian flight and was urging the Maldives authorities for a private jet to land in Singapore.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s anti-government demonstrators on Thursday decided to vacate some of the iconic administrative buildings, including the President’s House and the Prime Minister’s Office, they have been occupying since April 9.

Rajapaksa, who enjoys immunity from prosecution while he is president, fled the country before resigning to avoid the possibility of arrest by the new government.

On Saturday after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence, blaming him for the unprecedented economic crisis that has brought the country to its knees, Rajapaksa announced that he will step down on Wednesday.

Rajapaksa’s escape to the Maldives was negotiated by the Maldivian Majlis (Parliament) Speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed, sources in the Maldives capital Male said.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.

Last week, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.

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