The Speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament has accepted a letter of resignation from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which the vulnerable leader sent after fleeing to Singapore.
“From this point on, we will go to the constitutional appointment of a new president,” the speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, said on Friday.
He added that parliament would meet on Saturday to begin the process of electing a new president to serve for the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term ending in 2024. Abeywardana said he expected the process to be completed in seven days.
The announcement that a letter had been delivered on Thursday had sparked cheers in the commercial capital, Colombo, where protesters gathered outside the presidential secretariat and defied a curfew throughout the city.
Crowds set off fireworks, shouted slogans and danced ecstatically at the Gota Go Gama protest venue, mockingly named after Rajapaksa’s first name.
“The whole country will celebrate today,” said Damitha Abeyrathne, an activist. “It’s a big win.”
“We never thought we would get this country free from them,” she added, referring to the Rajapaksa family who dominated the country’s politics for 20 years.
Rajapaksa landed in Singapore on Thursday after fleeing mass protests over his country’s economic meltdown. He traveled on to Singapore on a flight from Saudi Arabia, according to reports.
Rajapaksa was with his wife Ioma and their two bodyguards. A passenger on the plane, who declined to be named, told Reuters news agency that Rajapaksa was met by a group of security guards and was seen leaving the airport VIP area in a convoy of black vehicles.
Airline staff on the flight told Reuters the president was dressed in black and flew in business class, describing him as “quiet” and “friendly”.
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Rajapaksa had been allowed to enter the city – state, but insisted it was for a “private visit”.
“He has not applied for asylum, nor has he been granted asylum. Singapore generally does not respond to requests for asylum, “the statement said.
A handful of Sri Lankans waited in one of the airport’s arrival areas to express their anger at Rajapaksa and the economic crisis that engulfed their homeland.
“I want to scold him with all the words I know,” said a Sri Lankan design engineer working in Singapore, who only identified himself as Max.
“He is responsible for everything that happened in our country,” he told the AFP news agency. The city-state is home to a significant Sri Lankan diaspora.
But authorities were quick to warn of protests: it is illegal for even one person to hold a demonstration in tightly controlled Singapore without prior official permission.
In a statement issued after Rajapaksa’s arrival, police urged people to “comply with our local laws” and said that “action will be taken against anyone who participates in a public assembly that is illegal”.
Rajapaksa’s decision on Wednesday to make his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acting president sparked several protests in which protesters stormed parliament and the prime minister’s office demanding his resignation.
“We want Ranil to go home,” said Malik Perera, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who took part in Parliament’s protests on Thursday. “They have sold the land. We want a good person to take over. Until then, we will not stop. ”
Protests against the economic crisis have simmered for months, culminating last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, accusing the powerful Rajapaksa family and allies of runaway inflation, lack of basic goods and corruption.
Inside the president’s residence early Thursday, ordinary Sri Lankans wandered around the halls, occupying the building’s extensive art collection, luxury cars and swimming pool.
However, the usual protest sites were quiet. Protest organizers handed over the president and prime minister’s homes to the government on Thursday night.
The government imposed a curfew in Colombo from noon (06:30 GMT) Thursday to early Friday morning in an attempt to prevent further unrest. Local media showed armored vehicles with soldiers on top patrolling the city streets.
The military said troops were authorized to use force to protect people and public property.
Police said a person was killed and 84 wounded in clashes between uropoliti and protesters on Wednesday near Parliament and the Prime Minister’s office as people demanded the removal of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.
The army said two soldiers were seriously injured when they were attacked by protesters near parliament on Wednesday night and that their weapons and magazines were snatched.
Police said the man who died was a 26-year-old demonstrator who succumbed after he was injured near the Prime Minister’s office.