Colombo (Sri Lanka): Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has submitted his resignation, two government sources said on Friday, after he fled to Singapore following massive protests over the land’s economic downturn country. Rajapaksa sent a letter of resignation via email to the speaker of the country’s parliament late on Thursday, two sources said. The sources added that it is not yet clear whether the letter sent shortly after Rajapaksa’s arrival in Singapore will be accepted in the form of an email. In the commercial capital Colombo, the army patrolled the streets to enforce a curfew.
Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives on Wednesday to escape a popular uprising over his family’s role in the crippling economic crisis, arrived in Singapore on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, according to someone familiar with the situation. One passenger on the flight, who did not want to be named, told Reuters that Rajapaksa was met by a group of security personnel and was seen leaving the airport’s VIP area in a black convoy.
Aviation staff on the flight told Reuters that the president, dressed in black, flew business class with his wife and two bodyguards, describing him as “quiet” and “friendly”. Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Rajapaksa had entered the country on a private visit and had not applied for or been granted asylum.
His decision on Wednesday to make his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesing powerful president sparked more protests, with protesters storming parliament and the prime minister’s office demanding he also must give up. “We want Ranil to come home,” Malik Perera, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who took part in the parliamentary rallies, said on Thursday. “They sold the water, we want a good person to take over, until then we won’t stop.”
Protests against the economic crisis have been simmering for months and flared up sharply last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people occupied government buildings in Colombo, blaming the powerful Rajapaksa family and allies because of runaway inflation, shortages of basic goods, and corruption.
Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards left the country on an air force plane early Wednesday morning and arrived in the Maldives. Inside the presidential residence early Thursday, ordinary Sri Lankans roamed the halls, gazing at the building’s extensive art collection, luxury cars and swimming pool. “The war isn’t over yet,” said Terance Rodrigo, a 26-year-old student who has been inside the compound since it was occupied by protesters on Saturday along with the prime minister’s official residence. “We have to make society better than this. The government doesn’t solve the problems of the people.”
However, the protest sites are usually very calm and organizers handed over the presidential and prime ministerial residences to the government on Thursday night. Chameera Dedduwage, one of the organizers, told Reuters: “With the president out of the country …, holding the sites of arrest no longer has any symbolic value. But another organizer, Kalum Amaratunga, said a crackdown could be imminent after Wickremesinghe labeled some protesters “fascists” in a speech the night before.
The government imposed a curfew in Colombo from noon (06:30 GMT) on Thursday to early Friday morning to prevent further unrest. Local media showed armored vehicles carrying soldiers patrolling the streets of the city. The military said it was empowered to use force to protect people and public property.