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Sri Lanka in limbo as president yet to resign

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Army personnel (unseen) use tear gas to disperse demonstrators during an anti-government protest outside the office of Sri Lanka's prime minister, in Colombo, on July 13, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Sri Lanka is in chaos a day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country amid protests fueled by an economic crisis.

Rajapaksa, who had promised to resign, escaped to the Maldives early on Wednesday morning. According to officials in the Maldives, he boarded a Saudi Airlines flight to Singapore early Thursday afternoon, with his final destination reported to be Saudi Arabia.

Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena confirmed on Thursday that he had not yet received a letter of resignation from the president. According to Sri Lanka's constitution, Rajapaksa's resignation would only be considered official once the speaker of parliament receives a letter of resignation.

Meanwhile, a state of emergency was declared after protesters breached the prime minister's offices and took over the state television broadcaster on Wednesday amid mounting anger over Rajapaksa's failure to resign.

Protesters blame the powerful Rajapaksa family and their allies for inflation, shortages of basic goods, and corruption.

On Thursday morning, protesters said they had peacefully handed back the government buildings they had occupied in order to maintain peace.

Officially, Rajapaksa remains president; but on Wednesday, he appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as "acting president" with full executive powers, a move that angered the protesters even further as they had been calling for both to resign.

As president, Rajapaksa has immunity from arrest. Many believe his resignation announcement will not come until he is safely outside of the country and is ensured protection from prosecution on charges of corruption and longstanding accusations of war crimes during Sri Lanka's civil war, when he was head of the armed forces.

The island of 22 million people is struggling with its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 amid a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food, and medicine. Soaring inflation, at a record 54.6 percent in June and expected to hit 70 percent in the coming months, has heaped hardship on the population.

Sri Lanka's parliament is expected to name a new full-time president on July 20, who will serve out the rest of Rajapaksa's term.


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