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Sri Lankan protestors stormed the president's residence and swam in his pool amid outrage over the state of the country economy.(Photo: Reuters)

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose family has dominated the country’s politics for much of the past two decades, has agreed to resign, the parliament’s speaker said, after antigovernment protesters stormed and occupied the president’s residence and office.

Sri Lankan protestors stormed the president's residence and swam in his pool amid outrage over the state of the country economy.(Photo: Reuters)
Sri Lankan protestors stormed the president's residence and swam in his pool amid outrage over the state of the country economy.(Photo: Reuters)

Sri Lankan protestors stormed the president's residence and swam in his pool amid outrage over the state of the country economy.(Photo: Reuters)

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose family has dominated the country’s politics for much of the past two decades, has agreed to resign, the parliament’s speaker said, after antigovernment protesters stormed and occupied the president’s residence and office.

In a televised statement on Saturday night, Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, said the president had informed him of his intention to step down Wednesday “to ensure a peaceful transition of power.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said earlier Saturday he will also resign.

The political fallout follows months of public unrest. The South Asian nation’s wilting economy has seen Sri Lankans endure months of double-digit inflation, rolling power blackouts and severe shortages of fuel and medicine. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves are depleted to the point that it can no longer afford to pay for essential imports and the country defaulted on its debt for the first time in its history in May. With queues outside gas stations snaking for miles around city blocks, authorities closed schools and restricted gas supplies to essential services to conserve fuel.

raving tear gas and water cannons in the capital, Colombo, protesters—many waving the national flag and clad in black—stormed the president’s residence and office Saturday, in one of the largest antigovernment demonstrations in the country this year amid a deepening sovereign debt crisis. Mostly peaceful demonstrations have been held daily outside the office since March.

Television news footage showed large crowds overrunning security barricades before breaching the official residence of Mr. Rajapaksa. Some were later seen taking a dip in the compound’s swimming pool. Videos purportedly filmed by protesters and shared widely on social media showed scores of men rifling through drawers, sitting in chairs and lounging on a four-poster bed inside a bedroom of the residence. One man was shown doing bicep curls in a gym.

The president’s whereabouts on Saturday weren’t immediately clear. He was earlier escorted to safety, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an unnamed defense official. The president’s office and media representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The two leaders’ intent to resign comes after an emergency meeting of the country’s political party leaders that demanded they step aside to make way for an interim, all-party government.

In the meeting, the party leaders also resolved to hold early elections, according to the speaker and opposition politicians. Before the meeting, the prime minister’s office said that the president would respect the decisions taken by the party leaders.

Mr. Wickremesinghe’s resignation, he said on Twitter, would help “ensure the continuation of the government including the safety of all citizens.” The move failed to assuage some protesters, who after a tense standoff with police, broke into Mr. Wickremesinghe’s private residence in Colombo on Saturday night and set it on fire, the prime minister’s office said, a violent turn reminiscent of a spate of arson attacks targeting ruling party politicians in May.

Despite belonging to an opposition party, Mr. Wickremesinghe—who has served five previous stints as prime minister—is widely seen by protesters as being emblematic of an old guard impeding real political change. He had already been facing public calls for his resignation despite only replacing Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, as prime minister in May. Protesters also breached his official residence earlier on Saturday afternoon.

Responding to calls by protest organizers to congregate in Colombo for mass demonstrations this weekend, Sri Lankans from far and wide improvised around acute fuel shortages by piling into semitrailer trucks, trains and overcrowded buses to reach the capital. Some walked miles to join the demonstrations. Protesters also converged around a cricket stadium in Galle, on Sri Lanka’s beach-lined southern coast, where the national team was taking on Australia in a test match.

Police had imposed a curfew in Colombo and other major urban hubs on Friday night but withdrew it on Saturday morning amid objections from lawyers and opposition politicians.

“[Gotabaya Rajapaksa] has become a curse of this country,” said Sarath Mendis, a 47-year-old engineer clutching the national flag outside the president’s office in Colombo. “My children do not have education because of this idiot.”

The protests and worsening financial crisis have forced the departure of several family members from public office, including his brother, who stepped down as prime minister after violent protests on May 9.

The brothers—who gained widespread popularity among Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority for ending a decadeslong civil war in 2009—have been the focal point of mounting public outrage over their handling of the country’s economic crisis. That includes a decision to delay its approach to the International Monetary Fund for financial relief by months and instead banking on a recovery of its tourism industry, a key foreign currency earner that had been decimated by the pandemic. Sri Lanka’s government has since admitted its missteps and is in talks with the IMF.

The pandemic and global inflation played a role in Sri Lanka’s crisis, but economists and investors say most of its financial troubles were set in motion long ago, given its high levels of public debt and sweeping tax cuts which drained government revenue.

U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday urged people to protest peacefully and called for authorities to grant nonviolent protesters the space and security to do so.

“Chaos and force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,” Ms. Chung said in a tweet. The United Nations also urged Sri Lankan authorities to show restraint and ensure every effort to prevent violence.

Nisantha Perera, a teacher from the central tea-growing region of Kandy, said he spent the previous night at a railway station as he made the early-morning journey to Colombo.

“The president must leave because he has brought such disrepute to our country,” he said. “So I am proud of being part of this protest to chase him out.”

Source: WSJ

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