Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on Wednesday after months of inflation-fueled protests, temporarily leaving a power vacuum in his wake as demonstrators continued to seize government buildings in a push for new leadership.
Protesters demanding the resignation of the president and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stormed the premier’s office after Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives, a nearby island nation. Wickremesinghe then imposed a state of emergency as soldiers fanned out around the capital, prompting opposition lawmakers to question the legality of the decision.
Later in the day, Speaker of the Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena confirmed that Wickremesinghe was acting president — a move that inflamed protesters who also want him gone. They later seized the national broadcaster, taking it off the air.
In an address afterward on a private television station, Wickremesinghe said he formed a committee including the police and military chiefs to de-escalate the situation, while reiterating that parliament will choose a new president on July 20. Meanwhile, reports indicate that Rajapaksa is leaving the Maldives for another country, and his whereabouts remain unknown.
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All times are local Sri Lankan time.
Wickremesinghe: Parliament Will Choose New President on July 20 (3.50 p.m.)
Parliament will choose a president on July 20, Wickremesinghe said in a televised address. “We cannot tear up the Constitution,” he said, adding that some elements aided by politicians were trying to achieve their personal goals by stoking unrest. He didn’t name anyone.
He defended the imposition of emergency rule, saying the decision was made because the government had intelligence reports about attempts to take over the PM’s office and air force chief’s house.
Wickremesinghe said he had formed a committee that includes the police and military chief to de-escalate the situation. He didn’t say how long the emergency would stay.
Protesters Take Over PM’s Office (3:15 p.m.)
Protesters took over the PM’s office. Photos and video on social media and in local reports showed protesters on the terraces and roof of the building in Colombo, waving the national flag. Wickremesinghe’s whereabouts are unknown since the weekend, when protesters stormed his official residence and set fire to his private home. His spokesman declined to comment.
Rajapaksa Expected to Tender Resignation (2:52 p.m.)
Rajapaksa will submit a formal resignation later Wednesday, a spokesman for the parliament speaker said over the phone. The speaker hasn’t yet received the resignation letter.
Protesters Seize Sri Lanka’s State Broadcaster (1:45 p.m.)
At about 1:02 p.m. in Colombo — shortly after the protester-imposed deadline lapsed for Rajapaksa to submit his resignation — state broadcaster Rupavahini telecast images of one of its anchors introducing two protesters before going off air for a brief period.
“We have not cast a stone at Rupavahini,” one of the protesters said. “We only ask that you join the people in our struggle rather than taking the side of the government in power. We thank the staff of Rupavahini for assisting us.”
There was no comment from the Information Ministry.
Speaker Says PM Wickremesinghe Is Acting President (1:26 p.m.)
Sri Lanka’s parliament speaker said Wickremesinge is acting president after Rajapaksa fled the bankrupt country. The speaker cited Article 37-1 of the constitution, which says: “If the president is of the opinion that by reason of illness, absence from Sri Lanka or any other cause he will be unable to perform and discharge the powers, duties and functions of the office, he may appoint the Prime Minister to exercise… functions of the office of President.”
Wickremesighe Imposes Nationwide Emergency (1:13 p.m.)
In his capacity as acting president, Wickremesinghe imposed a state of emergency across Sri Lanka hours after Rajapaksa fled the country. He also imposed curfew in the Western Province, which includes the capital Colombo, his spokesman Dinouk Colombage said by phone.
Sri Lanka Air Force Confirms Rajapaksa Left For Maldives (7:01 a.m.)
The Sri Lankan Air Force provided a plane for Rajapaksa to leave the country for the Maldives following a decision by the security council, Air Force spokesman Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe said on local television.
Wijesinghe said a request had come in from the current government and was approved by the Ministry of Defence. Rajapaksa left with his wife and two bodyguards.
The leader is now in the Maldives, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified as the matter is confidential.