Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as the country’s acting President after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on a military jet on Wednesday in the face of a public revolt against his government for mishandling the economy that has bankrupted the country.
Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced that President Rajapaksa has appointed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to act to perform his functions while he is abroad.
This was under article 37(1) of the Constitution, he said.
Meanwhile, the protesters who had arrived in large numbers at the PM Office have surrounded the building. The PM Office had earlier corrected that a state of emergency would only be declared after his appointment as the acting President. The curfew, however, was in force.
The Prime Minister has also ordered the security forces to arrest people acting in a riotous manner.
President Rajapaksa, 73, left the country along with his wife and two security officers on a military jet, a brief statement from the Sri Lanka Air Force said.
On Saturday, Rajapaksa had announced to step down on Wednesday after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence, blaming him for the unprecedented economic crisis that has brought the country to its knees.
As the news of Rajapaksa’s departure spread, an enthusiastic crowd gathered in Galle Face Green chanting the popular phrase Aragalayata Jayawewa, or Victory to the struggle in Sinhalese and “Go home Gota”.
The Police fired tear gas on protesters who had gathered near the PM office. The protesters broke through a barricade despite tear gas and stormed the prime minister’s office, calling for his resignation.
The protesters continue to occupy the three main buildings in the capital, the President’s House, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister’s official residence, Temple Trees, calling for their resignations.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last week said Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.