COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main city, Colombo, was calm on Thursday as people waited for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives to escape a popular uprising that erupted as the country struggles with an economic crisis.
Rajapaksa was expected to head to Singapore though his final destination was not clear. His decision on Wednesday to make his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe the acting president triggered more protests, with demonstrators storming parliament and the premier’s office demanding that he quit too.
Rajapaksa had repeatedly assured the speaker of parliament that he would step down on Wednesday, but his resignation letter had not arrived as of early Thursday, said an aide to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.
Police said one person was killed and 84 injured in clashes between riot police and protesters on Wednesday near the parliament building and the prime minister’s office, as people demanded the ouster of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.
Police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa said the man who died was a 26-year old protester who succumbed after he was injured near the prime minister’s office.
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 and corruption.
The area around parliament was deserted on Thursday morning. Police manned a barricade on the approach road. Nearby, life returned to normal, with shops open and plenty of cars on the road.
The night before, an intersection there was packed with several hundred protesters and ambulances regularly ferried the injured out of the area.
“We want Ranil to go home,” Malik Perera, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who said he took part in the protests, said on Thursday. “They have sold the country, we want a good person to take over, until then we won’t stop.”
Sitting in a park opposite the entrance to parliament, he showed bruising on his back that he said he received during the clashes.
An overnight curfew imposed by the acting president ended early on Thursday with no arrests, Thalduwa said.
Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards left the main international airport near Colombo on an air force plane early on Wednesday. Maldives media said he was now waiting for a private jet to fly to Singapore.
Reuters could not confirm his travel plans.
Government sources and aides said the president’s brothers, former president and prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, were still in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s parliament is expected to name a new full-time president on July 20, and a top ruling party source told Reuters 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.