Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped in as acting president Friday after the former president officially resigned.
Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unofficially stepped down on Wednesday, according to Reuters, after thousands of protesters stormed his residence and office. Wickremesinghe, whom many hold equally accountable with the former president for the economic catastrophe in Sri Lanka, had offered to vacate the prime minister’s position, but was sworn in as acting president Friday.
“We keep on fighting. We are fighting until [Rajapaksa] is properly accused and until some action [is taken]… we are fighting as one nation until he is getting proper punishment for whatever he has done,” Mariyan Malki, one of the protesters celebrating Rajapaska’s resignation Thursday, told CNN.
Rajapaksa’s whereabouts remained unknown for several days after protesters demanded his resignation and forced him from his home, surfacing in the Maldives on July 13. He tendered his resignation via an email to parliamentary speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena Thursday while taking refuge in Singapore, Reuters reported.
The abdications follow months of protest and condemnation from the Sri Lankan people over economic turmoil, allegedly a result of corruption and mismanagement among the ruling class. Sri Lanka’s previous prime minister, Rajapaksa’s brother, stepped down in May after violent protests.
Rajapaksa also signed a physical resignation letter before a Singapore court Thursday, which was then delivered to the speaker, CNN reported. Abeywardena formally announced Rajapaksa’s abdication Friday.
Wickremesinghe said in a televised address he would initiate amendments to the constitution that would reinforce parliamentary powers over that of the president, according to the Associated Press. “There is a big difference between protesters and insurgents. We will take legal action against insurgents,” he said.
Protesters occupied Wickremesinghe’s office after it was announced he would temporarily take over Rajapaksa’s position Wednesday, according to the Independent. Wickremesinghe promised to counter violent uprisings and blamed “fascists” for the intensifying unrest.
Large protests continue outside the Prime Ministers Office despite several rounds of tear gas being fired. Several journalists including among others from several international news agencies had been affected by the tear gas. https://t.co/V9ywRZeeWk
— News Cutter (@news_cutter) July 13, 2022
“Those who are in my office want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president. We can’t let them tear up our constitution. We can’t allow fascists to take over,” he said, according to the Independent.
Wickremesinghe initially rejected calls to step down as prime minister, only doing so after the parliament pleaded with him and Rajapaksa to remove themselves from power at an emergency meeting Saturday, Sri-Lanka based outlet NewsWire reported.
Sri Lanka’s constitution holds that Wickremesinghe can only hold the interim position for a maximum of 30 days, according to CNN.
Protesters told CNN they would continue demonstrating until Wickremesinghe, who is accused of having corrupt ties to the Rajapaksa family, leaves power for good.
“We had one aim—to get rid of this absolutely corrupt regime,” Dishan Seneviratne told CNN. “I am not a person who comes to the street, but I came because I was scared for my son’s future.”
Sri Lanka’s economy ground to a standstill after fuel shortages and a lack foreign exchange reserves forced it into bankruptcy.
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