By KRISHAN FRANCIS
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties will meet Sunday to agree on a new government a day after the country’s president and prime minister offered to resign in the country’s most chaotic day in months of political turmoil, with protesters storming both officials’ homes and setting fire to one of the buildings in a rage over the nation’s economic crisis.
Protesters who stormed the president’s official residence, his office and the prime minister’s official residence on Saturday spent the night there, saying they will stay until the leaders officially resign.
Opposition lawmaker M. A. Sumanthiran said all opposition parties combined could easily muster the 113 members needed to show a majority in Parliament, whereupon they will request President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to install the new government and then resign.
He said the parties hoped to reach consensus Sunday.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he will leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down Wednesday. Pressure on both men had grown as the economic meltdown set off acute shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to obtain food, fuel and other necessities.
If both president and prime minister resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as temporary president, according to the constitution.
Thousands of protesters entered the capital Colombo on Saturday and swarmed into Rajapaksa’s fortified residence. Video and pictures showed jubilant crowds splashing in the garden pool, lying on beds and using their cellphone cameras to capture the moment. Some made tea or used the gym while others issued statements from a conference room demanding that the president and prime minister go.
It was not clear if Rajapaksa was there at the time, and government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said he had no information about the president’s movements.
Even though both Wickremesinghe and Abeywardena said in their speeches that they had spoken with the president, they did not say anything about his whereabouts.
Protesters later broke into the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire, Wickremesinghe’s office said. It wasn’t clear if he was there when the incursion happened and the prime minister’s spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
The country is relying on aid from India and other nations as leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. Wickremesinghe said recently that negotiations with the IMF were complex because Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.
Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending repayment of foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage. Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.
Months of demonstrations have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption. The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base.
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