Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed as the country’s acting president after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives amid an economic crisis in the island nation.
Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said President Rajapaksa has appointed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to act to perform his functions while he is abroad. This was under article 37(1) of Sri Lanka’s Constitution, he said.
Meanwhile, the protesters who had arrived in large numbers at the prime minister’s office have surrounded the building. The PMO had earlier corrected that a state of emergency would only be declared after his appointment as the acting president. The curfew, however, was in force.
The prime minister has also ordered the security forces to arrest people acting in a riotous manner.
President Rajapaksa, 73, left Sri Lanka along with his wife and two security officers on a military jet, according to a brief statement from the Sri Lanka Air Force. He had previously announced he would step down Wednesday after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence, blaming him for the unprecedented economic crisis.
As the news of Rajapaksa’s departure spread, a crowd gathered in Galle Face Green chanting the popular Sinhalese phrase “Aragalayata Jayawewa” (“Victory to the struggle”) and “Go home Gota”.
The Police fired tear gas on protesters who had gathered near PMO. The protesters broke through a barricade despite tear gas and stormed the PMO, calling for his resignation.
The protesters continue to occupy the three main buildings in the capital — the President’s House, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister’s official residence — calling for their resignations.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had last week said Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.