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Sri Lanka latest: Rajapaksa resigns after months of protests

He earlier arrived at Changi Airport, putting to rest speculation on where the embattled politician would head to after he fled to the Maldives from Sri Lanka on a military plane Wednesday.
Image: Pushpa Kumara/Getty Images/Anadolu

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has sent his resignation to the parliament Speaker soon after he arrived in Singapore Thursday after fleeing months of anti-government protests, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

He earlier arrived at Changi Airport, putting to rest speculation on where the embattled politician would head to after he fled to the Maldives from Sri Lanka on a military plane Wednesday.

The developments have left a power vacuum in the island nation as demonstrators continued to push for new leadership and have stormed and occupied the president and prime minister’s offices and residences.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was made acting president and imposed a state of emergency Wednesday, has said he has formed a committee, including the police and military chiefs, to de-escalate the situation. He reiterated that parliament will choose a new president on July 20.

Key Developments:

  • Sri Lanka President Reaches Singapore After Fleeing Protests
  • Sri Lanka President Flying to Singapore, Then Saudi: AP
  • Plane Said to Carry Sri Lanka’s President Most-Tracked in World
  • In Sri Lanka, What Comes After People Power?: Ruth Pollard
  • How Sri Lanka Landed in a Crisis and What It Means: QuickTake
  • Rajapaksa’s Exit May Speed Sri Lanka’s Tilt From China

All times are local Sri Lankan time.

Rajapaksa Was Fearful for His Life, Maldives Speaker Says (7:36 p.m.)

Maldives Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed defended Rajapaksa’s decision to flee Sri Lanka and then resign, saying the leader was “fearful of losing his life.”

Mohamed Nasheed

@MohamedNasheed

???????? President GR has resigned. I hope Sri Lanka can now move forward. I believe the President would not have resigned if he were still in Sri Lanka, and fearful of losing his life. I commend the thoughtful actions of the Govt of Maldives. My best wishes to the people of Sri Lanka.

Sent via Twitter for iPhone.

View original tweet.

Rajapaksa Said to Resign After Reaching Singapore (7:30 p.m.)

Rajapaksa has sent his resignation via email to the parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena soon after he arrived in Singapore Thursday after fleeing months of anti-government protests, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Calls to Abeywardena went unanswered.

Singapore Confirms Rajapaksa Lands in City-State (5:48 p.m.)

Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Rajapaksa was allowed entry on a private visit.

“He has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum. Singapore generally does not grant requests for asylum,” the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Maldives landed in Changi Airport and it’s believed to have carried Rajapaksa and a small entourage.

Stocks Drop Slightly, Shrugging Off Chaos (2:30 p.m.)

Colombo All-Share Index dropped as much as 1.4%, but recouped more than half of the losses to close with a decline of 0.6%. The market was shut for trading on Wednesday for a local holiday and had climbed in the previous three sessions.

Opposition to Name a Consensus Candidate For PM (2:20 p.m.)

Opposition parties will discuss naming a consensus candidate for the post of prime minister, lawmaker Harsha de Silva said in a Twitter post. De Silva said the decision followed a request by Wickremesinghe, who is now acting president in addition to being the premier.

The name of the proposed candidate will be handed over to the Parliament Speaker Friday, he added.

Harsha de Silva

@HarshadeSilvaMP

Responding to request by PM @RW_UNP to @ParliamentLK Speaker to propose a name by consensus for PM, opposition parties will today discuss with various parties and groups in government to get such consensus. We will propose this name to Speaker at 10am tomorrow. #SriLankaCrisis

Sent via Twitter for iPhone.

View original tweet.

Plane Said to Carry Rajapaksa Most-Tracked in World (1:31 p.m.)

A Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Maldives to Singapore believed to be carrying Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the world’s most-tracked flight on Thursday, underscoring massive global interest in the troubled island nation’s political affairs.

Saudia flight 788 from Male was being tracked by almost 5,000 users as of 7:43 a.m. GMT, according to data from Flightradar24.com, more than three times the number of people tracking a French Air Force plane flying in Europe.

Curfew Imposed in Colombo For Second Night (12:15 p.m.)

Wickremesinghe issued order for curfew to be imposed in the Colombo district from noon Thursday, until 5 a.m. local time on July 15. The acting president had clamped an overnight island-wide curfew Wednesday, that ended at 5 a.m., after his office was occupied by protesters and there were attempts to storm parliament.

Ceylon Chamber Disappointed By Lack of Resignation (11:35 a.m.)

One of Sri Lanka’s largest business associations said Rajapaksa’s resignation was crucial to restoring order in the country. The parliament speaker should go ahead and select a new president before the current July 20 deadline, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

Parliament Speaker Not in Contact with Rajapaksa (10:05 a.m.) 

Let alone receiving the official presidential resignation letter by a promised July 13 deadline, Sri Lanka’s speaker hasn’t had any communication with Rajapaksa since earlier Wednesday, according to his media secretary. Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will make an announcement once he receives an update from Rajapaksa, he said.

Parliament Session in Doubt Without President’s Resignation (9:15 a.m.)

The legislature’s proposed July 15 special meeting, meant to start the process of electing a new president, now hangs in balance because Rajapaksa didn’t resign Wednesday. Even if the president did send in his resignation Thursday, it’s uncertain whether the required paperwork can be done in time for parliament to meet Friday, according to Janakantha Silva, the legislature’s director of communication. The next scheduled session is July 19, he said.

UN’s Guterres Calls on Party Leaders to Compromise (07:11 a.m.)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he is following Sri Lanka’s situation “very closely” and stresses the need to address protesters’ grievances. He called on party leaders to embrace “spirit of compromise” for a peaceful and democratic transition.

Rajapaksa Awaits Private Jet for Singapore, Daily Mirror Says (12:10 a.m.)

Talks were underway for Rajapaksa to secure a private aircraft bound for Singapore, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported, without saying where it got the information from.

Rajapaksa Misses Wednesday Resignation Deadline (12:09 a.m.)

Sri Lanka’s Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena hasn’t announced Rajapaksa’s resignation, which means the leader missed a planned deadline to step down on Wednesday.

Wickremesinghe Seeks Nomination of New Premier (8:30 p.m.)

Sri Lanka’s Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the parliament speaker to nominate a new premier “who is acceptable to both the government and opposition.”

Sticking to decision taken on July 11 that cabinet will relinquish duties once there’s an agreement to form an all-party government, Wickremesinghe’s media unit says in statement.

Protesters Break Outer Barricades Around Parliament (8:11 p.m.)

Hundreds of protestors have broken the first line of barricades set up outside parliament while forces are firing tear gas to disperse the crowds, Daily Mirror reported. Protests are swelling, calling for the ouster of President Rajapaksa — who fled the country Wednesday — and Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Tear gas is used to disperse anti-government demonstrators in Colombo, on July 13.

President Rajapaksa Expected to Head to Singapore, Reuters Says (8:11 p.m.)

Cites an unidentified government source in Sri Lanka as saying President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is expected to head to Singapore after fleeing to the Maldives early Wednesday.

Main opposition Calls for Wickremesinghe Ouster (7:15 p.m.)

Following meeting of party leaders with speaker, where heads of security forces also participated, Sri Lanka’s main opposition reiterated demand for Wickremesinghe’s resignation as prime minister.

Will back speaker being appointed as acting president, chief opposition whip Lakshman Kiriella, of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, tells Sirasa TV. Wickremesinghe hadn’t participated.

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.

Military officer guards the state-run broadcasting radio Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in Colombo, on July 13.

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.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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