Thousands of furious anti-government protesters in Sri Lanka stormed the official residence of embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in central Colombo’s high-security zone on Saturday after breaking barricades, as they demanded his resignation following a the island’s worst economic crisis in recent memory. Protesters also set fire to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence even after he offered to resign.

Prices have risen in recent months and the country is suffering severe shortages of essentials like cooking gas, fuel for vehicles, edibles and thermal fuel to generate electricity.

Here is an account of the main developments of the current protest and its ramifications.

Announcement of the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s speaker of parliament says President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to step down on July 13. The announcement comes late in the day and saw several thousand Sri Lankans take to the streets of the national capital Colombo and storm the President’s House, the Presidential Secretariat and the burning of Prime Minister Ranil’s house. Wickremesinghe.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday offered to step down and form a multi-party government, hours after thousands of protesters stormed the official residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who appears to have gone into hiding amid massive public anger in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis that has brought Sri Lanka to its knees.

Sri Lankan military seeks public support for peaceful resolution

Sri Lankan Army Chief Says Opportunity to Peacefully Resolve Crisis Now Available; seeks public support to keep the peace

Sri Lankan army chief General Shavendra Silva said on Sunday that an opportunity to resolve the current political crisis peacefully was now available and asked for the support of the people to keep peace in the island nation, hours after embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to step down. July 13.

In a brief statement, Chief of Defense Staff General Silva said an opportunity has arisen to resolve the current crisis peacefully.

He called on all Sri Lankans to support the armed forces and police to ensure peace is maintained in the country, the Colombo Gazette news portal reported.

The statement was issued following violence seen at Galle Face and Fort on Saturday and near the private residence of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

Economic crisis in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis, the worst in seven decades, crippled by a severe shortage of foreign exchange which has prevented it from paying for essential imports fuel and other necessities.

Sri Lanka’s crisis is largely the result of staggering economic mismanagement combined with the fallout from the pandemic, which, along with the terrorist attacks of 2019, devastated its important tourism industry. The coronavirus crisis has also disrupted the flow of remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad.

The country, facing an acute currency crisis that led to a foreign debt default, announced in April that it was suspending repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due for this year out of about 25 billions of dollars due until 2026.

The government took on big debts and cut taxes in 2019, depleting the treasury just as COVID-19 hit. Foreign exchange reserves have plummeted, leaving Sri Lanka unable to pay for its imports or defend its beleaguered currency, the rupee.

Ordinary Sri Lankans – especially the poor – are paying the price. They wait for days for cooking gas and gasoline in lines that can stretch for more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles). Sometimes, like Chamila Nilanthi, they go home with nothing.

Sri Lanka’s total external debt stands at $51 billion.

The IMF is closely monitoring the situation in Lanka

The IMF said on Sunday it was closely monitoring ongoing developments in Sri Lanka and hoped the political crisis would soon be resolved to allow dialogue to resume on an IMF-backed program in the cash-strapped country.

The IMF concluded a series of political-level talks with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who is also finance minister, and there were still some financial issues to be resolved. Meanwhile, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said the monetary program targets were complete.

“We are closely monitoring ongoing developments in Sri Lanka,” Peter Breuer, the IMF’s senior mission chief for Sri Lanka, and Masahiro Nozaki, the IMF’s chief mission for Sri Lanka, said in a statement on Sunday.

“We hope to resolve the current situation which will allow for the resumption of our dialogue on an IMF-supported program, while we plan to continue technical discussions with our counterparts in the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka,” reported Economy Next. on Sunday.

A draft budget was also to be presented in July or August.

Protesters unearth cash from President Rajapaksa’s house

Anti-government protesters claimed to have scooped millions of rupees inside his mansion, according to a media report on Sunday.

A video is shared on social media showing the protesters counting the banknotes that have been dug up. The money recovered was reportedly handed over to security units, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.

Authorities informed that they will take steps to publicize the situation on the ground after investigating the relevant facts, the daily reported.

Police arrest 3 people for burning down Prime Minister’s house

Sri Lankan police arrested three people on Sunday for burning down the private residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a day earlier, amid massive anti-government protests, media reported.

Among those arrested are a 19-year-old Mount Lavinia resident and two Galle residents, aged 24 and 28 respectively, the Colombo Page web portal reported, citing SSP police spokesman Nihal Talduwa.

More arrests are on the way as police widen the scope of their investigations, he said.

Talduwa said the suspects are currently being held by Colpetty Police and will appear in court later on Sunday, web portal Lanka First reported.

(With PTI inputs)

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