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Uncertainty remains after Sri Lankan president offers to resign

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Uncertainty remains after Sri Lankan president offers to resign

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s political parties met on Sunday morning, under intense pressure to quickly form an interim government after the country’s president and prime minister agreed to step down after fierce anti-government protests.

No new protests were reported in Colombo, but people packed the president’s home, occupied by protesters the day before, picnicking in the garden and swimming in the pool.

A volunteer associated with the protest movement, Nubompereg, told The Washington Post that protesters will occupy the homes of the two leaders until they officially resign.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Colombo this weekend to demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as disastrous economic policies have caused the country to collapse.

On Saturday, angry crowds stormed the presidential palace and office, jumped into the swimming pool, and celebrated victory on Rajapaksa’s bed. By evening, Rajapaksa had conveyed his decision to resign on July 13 to the Speaker of Parliament. He moved out of his home the day before the protests and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also offered to resign to quell the growing unrest, but his offer did little to appease angry protesters who set fire to his home.

The announcement of the resignation proposal marked a major victory for protesters but plunged the island nation into political turmoil over what happened next.

Sri Lankan president to resign next week after protesters storm residence, parliament speaker says

“This is a failed president and a failed government,” said Faiszer Musthapha, a member of the opposition formerly allied with Rajapaksa.

He said the country’s long-suffering people were in control. “It’s the power of the performer,” he said.

“This is a historic moment,” said Harini Amarasuriya, an opposition lawmaker in parliament. “A real civic struggle to end the rule of an unpopular and untrustworthy government.”

At an all-party meeting Saturday night, lawmakers decided to form an interim government until elections can be held. Discussions are under way to appoint a prime minister ahead of the president’s resignation on Wednesday.

“We can now enter a long-term trajectory that is more acceptable to the country and the international community,” said main opposition leader Elan Wickremeratern.

The United States is closely monitoring developments in Sri Lanka, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters in Thailand on Sunday, urging the country’s political leaders to quickly “identify and implement solutions” to achieve long-term economic stability and address grievances.

Blinken said the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were pervasive and “probably contributed” to the crisis in Sri Lanka. The war in Ukraine has pushed up global energy and food prices, leaving the nearly bankrupt country unable to import what it needs, compounding its economic woes.

Alan Keenan, an analyst at the International Crisis Group consultancy, told The Washington Post in April: “Even if you didn’t have a war in Ukraine, Sri Lanka would be in a crisis, but that would complicate things. “This is the Ukraine effect: a fuel line of credit that you thought would last two months now lasts one. Even if you get a bailout, you buy less food, fuel and medicine.”

Learn about the upheaval in Sri Lanka

Even as the opposition tries to agree on the next steps, the situation remains unstable as people’s patience has run out and there are no quick fixes.

In May, similar mass protests led to the resignation of Rajapaksa’s older brother Mahinda as prime minister and other family members. But the president persevered, appointing a former prime minister to lead the new government.

Anger over the ongoing economic woes is spreading again, this time more intensely. Recent weeks have been marked by severe fuel shortages, prolonged power outages and skyrocketing food prices. The exceptional circumstances have forced authorities to close schools and offices and require government workers to grow food in their backyards.

Signs of severe distress are everywhere – miles-long queues at petrol stations that can take up to three days to reach the front lines, and asylum seekers desperately trying to reach Australia by sea.

Far from Ukraine, Sri Lanka is the epicenter of the global crisis

Experts say Sri Lanka is experiencing stagflation — a period of slow economic growth, high unemployment and rising prices. Some forecasts suggest the economy could shrink by 4% to 6% later this year, a bigger hit than the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020.

Sri Lanka has been in bailout talks with international lenders, but continued political instability could jeopardize the process.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will step down on July 13. This comes after months of protests. (Video: Reuters)

Manjuka Fernandopulle, a lawyer specializing in debt restructuring, said creditors wanted to deal with a government that was “credible and legal” and that could “deliver on the promised reforms”.

Local media reported that the International Monetary Fund said it wanted an early resolution to resume talks on a rescue package. Ganeshan Wignaraja, an economist at ODI, a UK-based global affairs think tank who participated in the IMF discussions, described the economic situation as “extremely challenging”.

Sri Lanka’s first step forward is the IMF’s plan, which will include “raising taxes, raising interest rates to stabilize inflation, and reducing public subsidies such as electricity and electricity,” Wignaraja said.

“The second step is economic reform [such as] Lower the barriers for foreign investors,” he said. “My biggest fear is that this could be a lost decade and all the gains made in poverty reduction could be reversed. “

Aid groups say nearly a quarter of the country’s 22 million inhabitants are in need of food aid. Many people take the approach of eating less or not eating at all. Countries such as India and Australia have sent humanitarian aid such as food and medicine.

With the president on the verge of stepping down, many Sri Lankans are hopeful that things will get better.

Namal Ratnayake, 40, was part of a crowd of protesters marching towards the president’s office. The past few months have been devastating for wedding photographers, with income drying up and no fuel to move around.

“We have to expel these corrupt elements who have brought us to their knees,” Ratnayake said. “My demand is that we have to appoint honest and educated people from this parliament to help us get out of the mess we are facing. “

At the presidential palace, the jubilant crowd continued to celebrate.

Pictures from local media showed a group of tourists walking through the spectacular staircase of the presidential palace. Declares not to steal or damage property. Some collect garbage and clean up debris.

In a large conference room there was a discussion with the International Monetary Fund, while a young man played the Rajapaksa campaign song on the president’s piano, to great cheers.

Masih reported from New Delhi.

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