Colombo, July 13: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday became the acting President of Sri Lanka after beleaguered incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew out to The Maldives in a military jet, triggering fresh protests in both countries.
Angered in part by Rajapaksa’s quiet pre-dawn flight and his unexpected decision to appoint Wickremesinghe as the acting President, hundreds of anti-government protesters stormed the Prime Minister’s office in the heart of Colombo after battling security forces.
The slogan-shouting crowds barged in after repeated tear gassing failed to disperse them.
The scene mirrored what was seen in Colombo on July 9 when anti-government protesters who had been on the streets for months seized the President’s House, the nearby Presidential Secretariat and the Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s official residence.
A seemingly unruffled Wickremesinghe announced in a nationwide broadcast that he had formed a committee comprising the Chief of Defence Staff, commanders of the three wings of the armed forces and the police chief “to restore law and order in the country”.
He said the committee will be given “every authority to act without interference from politicians”.
President Rajapaksa left Sri Lanka with his wife and two security guards before dawn on Wednesday and quickly reached Male, capital of the Indian Ocean atoll nation the Maldives. A later report said he will leave for Singapore later in the day.
The dramatic flight took place a day after Sri Lankan immigration reportedly refused to let the President. And his brother and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa to leave the country through the main airport.
Military sources had on Tuesday indicated that President Rajapaksa. Whose policies have been widely blamed for impoverishing Sri Lanka, could leave for the Maldives or India. Before he resigns formally on Wednesday as promised earlier.
The President reportedly wanted to be out of Sri Lanka before he quits so that he doesn’t get detained.
The Indian High Commission here on Wednesday denied as “baseless” reports. That it helped President Rajapaksa to leave for the Maldives. And reiterated its support to the people of Sri Lanka. “As they seek to realize their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values”.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, acting in place of the President, earlier ordered emergency measures across Sri Lanka. A curfew in the Western Province which includes Colombo, and ordered security forces to act against rioters.
Wickremesinghe’s private residence was on the weekend burnt down by protesters. Destroying his collection of valuable books and paintings besides all personal belongings.