President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lands in Singapore after fleeing uprising

“We want Ranil to go home,” Malik Perera, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who took part in the parliament protests, said on Thursday.

“They have sold the country. We want a good person to take over – until then, we won’t stop.”

Police use tear gas to disperse protesters who stormed the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday.Credit:AP

Protests against the economic crisis have simmered for months and came to a head last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the powerful Rajapaksa family and allies for runaway inflation, shortages of basic goods, and corruption.

Inside the president’s residence early on Thursday, ordinary Sri Lankans wandered the halls, taking in the building’s extensive art collection, luxury cars and swimming pool.

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“The fight is not over,” said Terance Rodrigo, a 26-year-old student who said he had been inside the compound since it was taken over by protesters on Saturday.

“We have to make society better than this. The government is not solving people’s problems.”

The usual protest sites, however, were calm and organisers handed back the president and prime minister’s residences to the government on Thursday evening.

“With the president out of the country, holding the captured places holds no symbolic value anymore,” said Chameera Dedduwage, one of the organisers.

But another organiser, Kalum Amaratunga, said a crackdown could be imminent after Wickremesinghe branded some protesters “fascists” in an address the previous evening.

The government imposed a curfew in Colombo from noon local time on Thursday until early on Friday in a bid to prevent further unrest. Local media showed armoured vehicles with soldiers atop patrolling the city’s streets.

The military said troops were empowered to use force to protect people and public property.

Protester killed in clashes

Police said one person was killed and 84 injured in clashes between riot police and protesters on Wednesday.

The army said two soldiers were seriously injured when they were attacked by protesters near parliament on Wednesday evening and that their weapons and magazines were snatched.

Police said the man who died was a 26-year-old protester who injured near the premier’s office.

Rajapaksa had repeatedly assured the speaker of parliament that he would step down on Wednesday, but his resignation letter had not arrived as of Thursday, said an aide to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

A planned session of parliament on Friday was postponed, with opposition leaders due to meet on Friday to decide the next course of action, the speaker’s office said in a statement.

Former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, both brothers of the president, informed the Supreme Court through their lawyer that they would remain in the country until at least Friday.

They were responding to a petition filed by anti-corruption body Transparency International seeking action “against persons responsible for the current economic crisis”.

Immigration officials had stopped Basil Rajapaksa from flying out of the country on Tuesday.

Parliament is expected to name a new full-time president on July 20. A top ruling party source said that Wickremesinghe was the party’s first choice, although no decision had been taken. The opposition’s choice is their main leader, Sajith Premadasa, the son of a former president.

Reuters

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