COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose family has dominated politics in Sri Lanka for much of the past two decades, has agreed to step down after months of protests accusing him of wrecking the economy of the island nation by corruption and mismanagement, the speaker of the country’s parliament said on Saturday.
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, speaker of parliament and ally of the president, announced the developments after a chaotic day. Protesters entered the president’s residence and office, and thousands more descended on the capital, Colombo, to register their growing fury at his government’s inability to deal with a crippling economic crisis. As the protests grew, the country’s political leaders urged Mr. Rajapaksa to stand down.
There has been no direct confirmation of the potential resignation of Mr Rajapaksa, who is in hiding and has in the past remained defiant. Mr Abeywardena, in a televised statement, said the president had informed him that he would step down on July 13, “to ensure a peaceful transition of power”.
In the evening, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who only took office in May and was also facing demands to resign, said he would resign, saying he had “the safety of all citizens” in mind. Protesters also entered his private home on Saturday evening and set it on fire, said Dinouk Colombage, a spokesman for the prime minister, adding that Mr Wickremesinghe was not at home at the time.
Sri Lanka has depleted its foreign exchange reserves for imports of essentials like fuel and medicine, and the United Nations has warned that more than a quarter of Sri Lanka’s population is at risk of food shortages.
The economic crisis is a major setback for the nation, which is still grappling with the legacy of a bloody three-decade civil war. This conflict, between the government and insurgents who had taken up the cause of discrimination against the Tamil ethnic minority, ended in 2009. But many of its underlying causes remained, with the Rajapaksa family continuing to deal with majority Sinhalese Buddhist.
The country’s downward spiral unfolded as high energy prices and food inflation plagued much of the world. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ensuing sanctions have sent energy prices soaring, while global food supply chains are increasingly thin under stress and demand.
The unrest in Sri Lanka has already begun to reshape the geopolitical landscape of the region, where the island nation of 22 million people has long been seen as a strategic prize, China and India – long-time rivals – each other. competing for influence.
At least 42 people were injured in clashes with security forces in the city on Saturday, health officials said, after police used tear gas and water cannons against protesters and fired weapons. shots in the air to try to disperse them.
A Sri Lankan television channel said four of its journalists were attacked by security forces outside the residence of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on Saturday night.
Local media showed footage of protesters entering parts of the presidential residence as well as his secretariat, a separate building that houses his office.
Videos on social media showed protesters jumping into the swimming pool at Mr Rajapaksa’s residence, resting in bedrooms and frying snacks in the presidential kitchen.
“I came here today to send the president home,” said Wasantha Kiruwaththuduwa, 50, who had traveled 10 miles to join the protest. “Now the president must resign. If he wants peace to prevail, he must resign.
Speculation over Mr Rajapaksa’s whereabouts continued to escalate into the evening, but his whereabouts remained unclear. Defense Ministry and army officials did not immediately respond to questions about Mr Rajapaksa’s whereabouts.
Karan Deep Sing contributed report.