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Uncertainty persists after Sri Lankan president offers to resign

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Political parties in Sri Lanka met on Sunday morning and were under intense pressure to quickly form an interim government after the country’s president and prime minister agreed to resign following fierce anti-government protests.

No new protests were reported in Colombo, but people crowded into the president’s house seized by protesters the previous day, picnicking in the gardens and swimming in the pool.

Nuwan Bopege, a volunteer affiliated with the protest movement, told The Post that protesters will occupy the homes of the two leaders until they formally resign.

Tens of thousands of people flooded Colombo’s streets this weekend to demand the impeachment of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disastrous economic policies that have collapsed the country.

On Saturday, angry mobs stormed the presidential residence and office and celebrated their victory by diving into the pool and lounging on his bed. By evening, Rajapaksa had communicated his decision to resign to the Speaker of Parliament on 13 July. He had moved from his home a day before the protests and his whereabouts are unknown.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also offered to resign to quell growing unrest, but his offer failed to appease the angry protesters who set his house on fire.

The announcements of the resignation offer marked a major victory for the protesters, but plunged the island nation into political turmoil over what happens next.

Sri Lankan president to resign next week, parliament speaker says after protesters storm residence

“This was a failed president and a failed government,” said Faiszer Musthapha, a member of an opposition party previously allied with Rajapaksa.

He said the long-suffering people of the country had taken control. “It was the power of the people on display,” he said.

“It is a historic moment,” said Harini Amarasuriya, an opposition member of parliament, “where a real civil struggle ended the rule of an unpopular and untrustworthy government.”

During a party on Saturday night, lawmakers decided to form an interim government until elections can be held. Talks are underway to appoint a prime minister before the president’s resignation on Wednesday.

“We can now embark on a more acceptable long-term trajectory for the country and for the international community,” said Eran Wickremerathne, a leader of the main opposition party.

The United States closely followed developments in Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken told reporters in Thailand on Sunday, urging the country’s political leaders to quickly “identify and implement solutions” for economic stability. in the long run and address people’s dissatisfaction.

Blinken said the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was felt everywhere and “may have contributed” to the crisis in Sri Lanka. The war in Ukraine drove up global energy and food prices, making it impossible for the nearly bankrupt country to import what it needs, exacerbating its economic struggles.

“Sri Lanka would be in crisis even if you didn’t have a war in Ukraine, but it makes everything worse,” Alan Keenan, an analyst with the consultancy International Crisis Group, told The Post in April. “This is the Ukraine effect: a fuel credit line that you thought could last two months now lasts one. Even if you get a bailout, you buy less food, less fuel, less medicine.”

What to know about the unrest in Sri Lanka

Even as the opposition tries to reach a consensus on the next steps, the situation remains unstable because people are out of patience and no quick fixes are available.

In May, similar large-scale protests led to the resignation of Rajapaksa’s older brother Mahinda as prime minister and other family members. But the president persisted and appointed a former prime minister to head a new government.

Anger at the ongoing economic crisis hit again, this time with more force. Recent weeks have been marked by severe fuel shortages, prolonged power cuts and skyrocketing food prices. The extraordinary circumstances forced authorities to close schools and offices and ask government employees to grow food in backyards.

The signs of acute distress are visible everywhere – in the mile-long lines at gas stations, where it can take up to three days to reach the front, and the desperate attempts of asylum seekers to reach Australia by sea.

Far from Ukraine, Sri Lanka is the epicenter of a global crisis

Experts say Sri Lanka is facing stagflation – a period marked by slow growth and high unemployment accompanied by rising prices. Current negative growth could reach minus 4-6 percent later this year, some forecasts suggest, worse than the Covid hit in the economy in 2020.

Sri Lanka is negotiating with international lenders, but ongoing political instability threatens to jeopardize that process.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will resign on July 13. This comes after months of protest. (Video: Reuters)

Manjuka Fernandopulle, a lawyer specializing in debt restructuring, said creditors would be happy to do business with a government that is “credible and legitimate” and “can deliver on the reform promised”.

Local media reported that the International Monetary Fund said it hoped for a quick solution so that talks on a rescue package can resume. Ganeshan Wignaraja, an economist at ODI, a UK-based global affairs think tank that has been involved in the IMF discussions, described the economic situation as “hugely challenging”.

The first step forward for Sri Lanka is the IMF program, Wignaraja said, which includes “higher taxes, raising interest rates to stabilize inflation and cutting government subsidies such as electricity and power”.

“Step two is economic reforms [such as] lowering the barriers for foreign investors,” he said. “My biggest fear is that this could be a lost decade and any gains made in poverty reduction could be reversed.”

Aid agencies say nearly a quarter of the country’s 22 million residents are in need of food aid. Many have resorted to eating less or skipping meals. Countries such as India and Australia have sent humanitarian aid, such as food and medicine.

Now with the impending impeachment of the president, many Sri Lankans are hoping things will change.

Namal Ratnayake, 40, was part of the protesting crowd that marched to the president’s office. The past few months had been devastating for the wedding photographer, with revenues drying up and no fuel to make ends meet for assignments.

“We had to drive out these corrupt people who brought us to our knees,” Ratnayake said. “My demand is that we appoint honest and educated people from the current parliament to get us out of this immediate mess.”

In the presidential residence, the celebrations continued with the cheering crowd.

Images from local media showed a stream of visitors passing through a imposing staircase at the president’s house. Notices were made not to steal or damage the property. Some collected trash and cleared debris.

In a large conference room, people conducted a discussion with the IMF while a young man the Rajapaksa . played campaign song on the president’s piano to loud cheers.

Masih reported from New Delhi.


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