COLOMBO, Sri Lanka— Sri Lanka’s prime minister agreed to resign on Saturday after party leaders in Parliament demanded both he and the embattled president step down on the day protesters stormed the president’s residence and office in a fury over a worsening economic crisis.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of India, stated in a voice message that he would resign if all the parties had agreed to a new government.
“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF. Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government,” he said.
His decision came after the biggest protest yet swept Sri Lanka as tens of thousands of people broke through barricades and entered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and nearby office to vent their anger against a leader they hold responsible for the nation’s worst crisis.
The footage showed the residents in joy taking a swim in the backyard pool. Some lay on beds, others made tea and drank, and made “statements” from the conference room that Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe must immediately quit.
Wickremesinghe said he suggested to the president to have an all-party government, but didn’t say anything about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. At the moment, Parliament was discussing the formation a new government with opposition parties.
Rajapaksa named Wickremesinghe prime minister in May, in hopes that Wickremesinghe would utilize his contacts and diplomacy to revive a crumbling economy. But people’s patience wore thin as shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas only increased and oil reserves ran dry.
Wickremesinghe is accused by many protestors of trying to save Rajapaksa after he was forced to resign due to pressure. Every other member of his political dynasty has since resigned.
However, it wasn’t clear whether Rajapaksa had been inside the residence at the time of its storming earlier on Saturday. Mohan Samaranayake a spokesperson for the government said that he didn’t have information on Rajapaksa’s movements.
Later, leaders of the political parties within Parliament met and agreed to ask Rajapaksa to resign. Rauff Hakeem, an opposition lawmaker, stated on Twitter. He stated that a consensus had been reached and the temporary presidency should be taken over by the speaker of Parliament.
Sri Lanka’s economy is in a state of collapse, relying on aid from India and other countries as its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. People are left without food and fuel due to the economic collapse.
This turmoil led to protests that almost ended the Rajapaksa political system, which has ruled Sri Lanka for the majority of the past 20 years.
The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base. Protesters blame the Rajapaksa clan for creating chaos in Sri Lanka through poor governance and corruption allegations.
At the president’s office, security personnel tried to stop demonstrators who pushed through fences to run across the lawns and inside the colonial-era building.
At least 34 people, including two officers of the police force were injured in an altercation when protesters attempted to gain entry to the house. A spokesperson from the Colombo National Hospital said that two of those injured were in critical condition, while some others suffered minor injuries.
After an overnight curfew was lifted by police, thousands of protestors flooded the capital. Many protestors crowded on buses and trains in search of fuel, but others travelled by bicycles or on foot.
Protest and religious leaders called on Rajapaksa to step down, saying he has lost the people’s mandate.
“His claim that he was voted in by the Sinhala Buddhists is not valid now,” said Ven. Omalpe Sobitha was a respected Buddhist leader. He urged Parliament to convene immediately to select an interim president but said that Wickremesinghe did not enjoy the people’s support.
Last month, Wickremesinghe said the country’s economy has collapsed. Wickremesinghe stated that negotiations with IMF were difficult because Sri Lanka is now bankrupt.
Sri Lanka said in April it will stop repaying its foreign loan due to currency shortages. The country’s foreign debt totals $51 billion, of which $28 billion must be repaid by 2027.
After imposing a curfew at Colombo’s main urban areas Friday night, police withdrew the order Saturday morning due to objections from lawyers and political opponents who called it illegal.
U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday asked people to protest peacefully and called for the military and police “to grant peaceful protesters the space and security to do so.”
“Chaos & force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,” Chung said in a tweet.
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