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PoliticsSri Lanka

Sri Lankan president emails overdue resignation

July 14, 2022

Protesters were withdrawing from government buildings as they awaited the president's formal resignation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa had promised to step down by Wednesday.

A man unfurls a Sri Lankan flag in Colombo.
Colombo was relatively calm on Thursday, a day after exiled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had promised to step downImage: Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images

Sri Lanka's embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sent his letter of resignation to parliament via email on Thursday — a day after the Wednesday deadline he had repeatedly given himself to leave office.

Rajapaksa and his wife fled to the nearby Maldives on Wednesday aboard an air force jet. Rajapaska landed in Singapore Thursday where authorities there said he was on a "private visit" and had neither requested nor been granted asylum.

Reports earlier on Thursday said he was on his way to Singapore before possibly continuing on to Saudi Arabia.

"The authenticity and the legality of the e-mail will have to be checked out" before being formally accepted, parliament speaker spokesperson Indunil Yapa told the AFP news agency, adding that a formal announcement was expected on Friday. 

Over the weekend, protesters had stormed Rajapaksa's presidential palace, and on Wednesday, they also occupied the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had quickly taken over as acting president and now is bearing the brunt of the protesters' anger.

Wickremesinghe responded with a nationwide curfew, adding: "We can't allow fascists to take over."

After months of protests, the streets of Colombo were calm on Thursday morning after protesters appeared to broker a truce with authorities.

People protest inside Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office.
Protesters occupied Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office on Wednesday, but agreed to withdraw on ThursdayImage: Marlon Ariyasinghe/REUTERS

Protesters ready to stand down

"We are peacefully withdrawing from the presidential palace, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister's office with immediate effect but will continue our struggle," a spokesperson for the demonstrators said on Thursday morning.

The negotiations to vacate the occupied buildings follow clashes between protesters and police on Wednesday night outside parliament that saw one killed and 84 injured.

"This building is a national treasure and it should be protected," Omalpe Sobitha, a senior Buddhist monk who supported the protest movement, told reporters. "There must be a proper audit and the property given back to the state."

Demonstrators gather outside the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Sri Lankans are cautiously waiting for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to formally resignImage: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

The road ahead

Sri Lankan lawmakers have agreed to elect a new president on July 20 to serve for the remainder of Rajapaksa's term, which ends in 2024. The new president could in theory appoint a new prime minister, pending the approval of parliament.

Whoever takes the reins from the Rajapaksa political dynasty will be tasked with bringing Sri Lanka's economy back from collapse. Food, fuel and medicine remain in extremely short supply.

As one 24-year-old university student told the Associated Press: "Gotabaya resigning is one problem solved, but there are so many more."

zc/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)