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Uncertainty remains after Sri Lankan president’s proposed resignation

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

No new protests were reported in Colombo but people thronged the president’s home, which was seized the day before by protesters, who picnicked in the gardens and swam in the pool.

Nuwan Bopege, a volunteer associated with the protest movement, told the Washington Post that protesters will occupy the homes of both leaders until they officially step down.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Colombo over the weekend to demand the ousting of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over disastrous economic policies that have led the country to collapse.

Saturday, angry crowds stormed the presidential residence and office and celebrated their victory by diving into the pool and lounging on Rajapaksa’s bed. During the night, Rajapaksa had announced his decision to resign on July 13 to the Speaker of Parliament. He had left his home a day before the protests and his whereabouts are still unknown.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also offered to resign to quell the growing unrest, but his offer did not appease angry protesters, who burned down his house.

The announcements of the resignation offers marked a major victory for the protesters, but plunged the island nation into political turmoil over what happens next.

Sri Lankan president to step down next week, parliament speaker says, after protesters stormed his residence

“He was a failed president and a failed government,” said Faiszer Musthapha, a member of an opposition party that previously allied with Rajapaksa.

He said the long-suffering people of the country had taken control. “It was the power of the people on display,” he said.

“This is a historic moment,” said Harini Amarasuriya, an opposition Member of Parliament, “when a genuine citizen struggle ended the rule of an unpopular and untrustworthy government.”

At a multi-party meeting on Saturday evening, lawmakers decided to form an interim government until elections could be held. Discussions are underway to appoint a prime minister ahead of the president’s resignation on Wednesday.

“We can now move on to a long-term trajectory that is more acceptable to the country and to the international community,” said Eran Wickremerathne, a leader of the main opposition party.

The United States was closely following developments in Sri Lanka, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Thailand on Sunday, urging the country’s political leaders to “identify and quickly implement solutions” for economic stability in Thailand. long term and to respond to public discontent.

Blinken said the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was felt everywhere and “may have contributed” to the crisis in Sri Lanka. The war in Ukraine has driven up global energy and food prices, making it impossible for the nearly bankrupt country to import what it needs, exacerbating its economic struggle.

“Sri Lanka would be in crisis even if there was no war in Ukraine, but that makes everything worse,” Alan Keenan, an analyst at consultancy International Crisis Group, told The Post in April. “It’s the Ukraine effect: a fuel line of credit that you thought could last two months now lasts one. Even if you get a bailout, you buy less food, less fuel, less medicine.

What to know about the upheavals in Sri Lanka

Even as the opposition tries to reach consensus on the next steps, the situation remains volatile as people’s patience is exhausted and no quick fix is ​​available.

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

Anger over continued economic distress has spread again, this time with greater force. Recent weeks have been marked by severe fuel shortages, long power outages and soaring food prices. The extraordinary circumstances have forced authorities to close schools and offices and instruct government workers to grow food in backyards.

The signs of acute distress are apparent everywhere – in the long queues at petrol stations, where it sometimes takes up to three days to reach the front, and the desperate attempts by asylum seekers to reach Australia by Sea route.

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

Experts say Sri Lanka is experiencing stagflation – a period marked by slow growth and high unemployment accompanied by rising prices. Some forecasts suggest the economy could contract 4-6% later this year, worse than the covid that hit the economy in 2020.

Sri Lanka is in bailout talks with international lenders, but continued political instability threatens to jeopardize that process.

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

Debt restructuring lawyer Manjuka Fernandopulle said creditors would like to deal with a “credible and legitimate” government that can “implement the promised reform”.

Local media reported that the International Monetary Fund said it hoped for a quick resolution so talks could resume on a bailout. Ganeshan Wignaraja, an economist at ODI, a UK-based global affairs think tank that participated in IMF talks, described the economic situation as “extremely difficult”.

The first step forward for Sri Lanka is the IMF programme, Wignaraja said, which will include “raising taxes, raising interest rates to stabilize inflation and cutting government subsidies like electricity and electricity”.

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

Aid groups say nearly a quarter of the country’s 22 million people need food aid. Many have decided to eat less or skip meals altogether. Countries like India and Australia have sent humanitarian aid such as food and medicine.

With the president’s impending ouster, many Sri Lankans are hoping things might change.

Namal Ratnayake, 40, was among the crowd that marched to the president’s office. The past few months had been devastating for the wedding photographer, with declining income and no fuel to travel for assignments.

“We had to oust these corrupt people who brought us to our knees,” Ratnayake said. “My request is that we have honest, educated people appointed by the current Parliament to get us out of this immediate mess.”

At the presidential residence, the celebrations of the jubilant crowd continued.

Local media footage showed a stream of visitors crossing a imposing staircase at the President’s home. Announcements were made not to steal or damage the property. Some picked up trash and cleaned up debris.

In a large conference room, people decreed a discussion with the IMF while a young man played Rajapaksa campaign song at the President’s piano to cheers.

Masih reported from New Delhi.