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By Krishan Francis
Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — 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. bulletin news
The prime minister’s spokesman, Dinouk Colambage, said Ranil Wickremesinghe told party leaders that he will resign when all parties have agreed on a new government.
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.
Footage showed people taking a dip in the garden pool of the residence and others in a jubilant mood.
Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in the hope that the career politician would use his diplomacy and contacts to resuscitate a collapsed economy. But people’s patience wore thin as shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas only increased and oil reserves ran dry.
Many protesters accuse Wickremesinghe of trying to save Rajapaksa when he came under pressure to resign, as every other member of his powerful political dynasty had quit the Cabinet.
Opposition parties in Parliament were currently in discussion about forming an all-party government.
It was not clear if Rajapaksa was inside his residence when it was stormed earlier Saturday. A government spokesman, Mohan Samaranayake, said he had no information about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts.
Leaders of political parties in Parliament met later and decided to request Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to step down, opposition lawmaker Rauff Hakeem said on Twitter. He said a consensus was reached that the parliamentary speaker should take over as temporary president and work on an interim government.
Sri Lanka’s economy is in a state of collapse, muddling through with aid from India and other countries as its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. The economic meltdown has led to severe shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to buy food, fuel and other necessities.
The turmoil has led to months of protests, which have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base. Much of the public ire has been pointed at the Rajapaksa family, with protesters blaming them for dragging Sri Lanka into chaos with poor management and allegations of corruption.
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Videos posted on social media showed protesters storming the residence, chanting “Gota go home,” calling the president by his nickname. Dozens were seen jumping into the pool, milling about the house and and watching television. Outside the building, barricades were overturned and a black flag was hoisted on a pole.
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 police officers were wounded in scuffles as protesters tried to enter the residence. Two of the injured are in critical condition while others sustained minor injuries, said an official at the Colombo National Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Thousands of protesters entered the capital from the suburbs after police lifted an overnight curfew. With fuel supplies scarce, many crowded onto buses and trains to come to the city to protest, while others made their way on bicycles and 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, a prominent 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. He said that the negotiations with the IMF have been complex because Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.
In April, Sri Lanka announced it is suspending repaying foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage. Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.
Police had imposed a curfew in Colombo and several other main urban areas on Friday night but withdrew it Saturday morning amid objections by lawyers and opposition politicians who called it illegal.
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Notes from APS Radio News
Although Sri Lanka has experienced some of the worst shortages, a number of other countries have as well.
Analysts say that, to large degree, shortages have been a consequence of lockdowns and quarantines that were imposed during the past few years, reportedly over the narrative of the virus.
Even in developed countries, shortages of various goods and services have occurred.
One of the proximate causes has been the shuttering of various small to medium-sized businesses, some of which never opened again.
For example, in the US, as of October 2020, over 100,000 businesses had closed their doors, many permanently.
Another complicating factor has been delays at major ports. Earlier this year there were reports of shipping containers not being offloaded.
In various instances, there has been a shortage of nurses and medical personnel.
A number of them had resigned or were dismissed over their refusal to take the mRNA vaccine.
Also complicating matters have been the policies followed by the world’s major central banks.
For example, between early March 2020 and the beginning of 2022, the US Federal Reserve added over $4 trillion to its holdings.
Between monetary expansion and increased fiscal spending, in the context of “stimulus checks”, the money supplied increased greatly during that period.
As well, the velocity of the increase in the money supply was another variable: When the money supply increases too rapidly, the likelihood of inflation is increased.
Thus, the combination of monetary & fiscal expansion and shortages of various goods and services has exacerbated rates of inflation and itself, that is, apart from lockdowns, has contributed to shortages.
Less developed countries, those whose foreign bank reserves and whose budgets are already strained by programs that provide food and fuel subsidies, as is true of Sri Lanka, have been especially vulnerable to forces & interests that have upended the world’s economy these past two and a half years.
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Protesters storm the official residence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa shortly after the Sri Lankan president fled the Colombo compound. Huge crowds had surrounded the leader’s home to demand his resignation, blaming government mismanagement for a painful economic downturn. Source: Agence France Presse