Colombo, Sri Lanka – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has agreed to step down in the coming days, the Sri Lankan parliament speaker said on a tumultuous Saturday that also saw the prime minister say he would resign and the storming of both leaders’ residences by protesters were angry about the serious economic crisis.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a televised statement that he informed Rajapaksa that the parliamentary leaders had met and decided to ask him to leave office, and the president agreed. However, Rajapaksa will remain until Wednesday to ensure a smooth transfer of power, Abeywardena added.
“He has asked me to inform the country that he will resign on Wednesday the 13th because of the peaceful transfer of power,” Abeywardena said.
“Therefore, there is no need for further disturbances in the country and I urge everyone in the interest of the country to maintain the peace to allow a smooth transition,” the speaker continued.
Opposition lawmaker Rauff Hakeem said a consensus has been reached for the Speaker of Parliament to take over as interim president and work for an interim government.
The announcement of the president’s resignation came hours after protesters poured into his fortified residence in Colombo. Video footage showed jubilant crowds taking a dip in the garden pool. Some people lay on the beds of the house, while others made tea and made statements from a conference room demanding the departure of both Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
It was not clear whether Rajapaksa was there at the time, and government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said he had no information about the president’s movements.
Protesters also broke into the prime minister’s private home and set it on fire, Wickremesinghe’s office said. It was not immediately clear whether he was there when the raid took place.
Hours earlier, Wickremesinghe had announced his own impending resignation, amid calls to resign. But he said he will not resign until a new government is formed, much to the anger of protesters who demanded his immediate departure.
“Today we have a fuel crisis in this country, a food shortage, the head of the World Food Program is coming here and we have several things to discuss with the IMF,” Wickremesinghe said. “So, if this government goes out there, there should be another government.”
Wickremesinghe said he proposed to the president to have an all-party government, but said nothing about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. Opposition parties in parliament discussed forming a new government.
Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe prime minister in May in hopes the career politician would use his diplomacy and contacts to revive a collapsed economy. But the patience of the people ran out as the shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas only increased and oil reserves ran dry†
The country relies on help from India and other countries as leaders try to negotiate a rescue plan with the International Monetary Fund.
Months of demonstrations have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of dragging the country into chaos through mismanagement and alleged corruption. The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after seeking safety at a naval base during violent protests.
Thousands of protesters marched into the capital from the suburbs on Saturday after police lifted a curfew that lawyers and opposition politicians labeled illegal. As fuel was scarce, many boarded buses and trains, while others made their way by bicycle and on foot.
In the president’s seaside office, security personnel tried unsuccessfully to stop protesters from breaking through fences to run across the lawns and colonial-era building.
At least 34 people were injured in the clashes, including two police officers. Two of the injured were in critical condition, while others suffered minor injuries, according to a Colombo National Hospital official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Privately owned Sirasa Television reported that at least six of its employees, including four reporters, had been hospitalized after being beaten by police while covering the protest at the prime minister’s home.
Sri Lanka’s medical council, the country’s top professional body, warned that hospitals are running on minimal resources and would not be able to handle mass casualties from the unrest.
Protest and religious leaders said Rajapaksa has lost his mandate and it is time for him to go.
“His claim that he was voted by the Sinhalese Buddhists is now invalid,” Ven said. Omalpe Sobitha, a prominent Buddhist leader. He urged Parliament to meet immediately to elect an interim president.
Wickremesinghe said last month the country’s economy had collapsed and negotiations with the IMF were complex because Sri Lanka was now bankrupt.
Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending the repayment of foreign loans due to a shortage of foreign currency. Its total external debt is $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday asked people to protest peacefully and called on the military and police to “give peaceful protesters the space and security to do so”.
“Chaos and violence will not restore the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need now,” Chung tweeted.