Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Justin Lane | swimming pool | Getty Images
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has submitted a letter of resignation, two government sources said on Thursday, after he fled to Singapore following mass protests over his country’s economic collapse.
Rajapaksa emailed a resignation letter to the speaker of the country’s parliament late Thursday, two sources said.
It is not immediately clear whether the letter, sent shortly after Rajapaksa’s arrival in Singapore, would be accepted in email form, the sources added.
In the commercial capital of Colombo, troops patrolled the streets to enforce a curfew.
Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives on Wednesday to escape a popular uprising over his family’s role in a crippling economic crisis, flew to Singapore on a Saudi Arabian airline flight, according to a person familiar with the situation.
A passenger on the flight, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that Rajapaksa was met by a group of security guards and seen exiting the airport’s VIP area in a convoy of black vehicles.
Airline staff on the flight told Reuters the black-clad president was flying business class with his wife and two bodyguards and described him as “calm” and “friendly”.
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said Rajapaksa entered the country on a private visit and had not applied for or been granted asylum.
His decision on Wednesday to nominate his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president sparked further protests, with protesters storming Parliament and the prime minister’s office, demanding he too resign.
“We want Ranil to go home,” Malik Perera, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who took part in the parliamentary protests, said Thursday. “They sold the land, we want a good person to take over, we won’t stop until then.”
Protests over the economic crisis have simmered for months and came to a head last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people occupied government buildings in Colombo, blaming the powerful Rajapaksa family and their allies for runaway inflation, lack of basic necessities and corruption.
Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards fled the country on an Air Force plane early Wednesday and made their way to the Maldives.
At the President’s residence, ordinary Sri Lankans wandered the halls early Thursday, inspecting the building’s extensive art collection, luxury cars and swimming pool.
“The fight is not over yet,” said Terance Rodrigo, a 26-year-old student who said he had been at the site since it was taken over by protesters on Saturday, along with the prime minister’s official residence.
“We have to make society better. Government does not solve people’s problems.”
However, the usual protest sites were quiet and organizers handed over the presidential and prime minister’s residences to the government on Thursday night.
“Since the President has left the country … holding the captured places no longer has any symbolic value,” Chameera Dedduwage, one of the organizers, told Reuters.
But another organizer, Kalum Amaratunga, said a crackdown could be imminent after Wickremesinghe branded some protesters “fascists” in a speech the night before.
The government imposed a curfew in Colombo from Thursday noon (06:30 GMT) to Friday morning to prevent further unrest. Local media showed armored vehicles with soldiers patrolling the city streets.
The military said troops have the authority to use force to protect people and public property.
One dead, 84 injured in clashes
Police said one person was killed and 84 injured in clashes between riot police and protesters on Wednesday near Parliament and the prime minister’s office as people demanded the ousting of Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.
The army said two soldiers were seriously injured when they were attacked by protesters near Parliament on Wednesday night and their guns and magazines were stolen.
Police said the man who died was a 26-year-old protester who succumbed after being injured near the prime minister’s office.
Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, both brothers of the president, told the Supreme Court through their lawyer that they would remain in the country until at least Friday.
They were responding to a petition by the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, which calls for action “against those responsible for the current economic crisis”.
Immigration officials blocked Basil Rajapaksa from leaving the country on Tuesday.
Parliament is expected to appoint a new full-time president on July 20, and a senior source in the ruling party told Reuters that Wickremesinghe was the party’s first choice, although no decision had yet been made. The opposition’s choice falls on its main leader, Sajith Premadasa, the son of a former president.