Political chaos in Sri Lanka persists as crisis talks continue | National Policy


By KRISHAN FRANCIS – Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A weekend of political chaos in Sri Lanka dragged into Monday as opposition leaders have yet to agree to replace embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his prime minister. , whose residences remain occupied by protesters angered by the country’s economic collapse.

Crowds of protesters swarmed Rajapaksa’s home, his seaside office and the official residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday and demanded that they withdraw on the most dramatic day of the three-month crisis. Leaders of two opposition parties held talks on Monday but could not agree on their picks for president and prime minister.

Corruption and mismanagement have left the island nation saddled with debt, unable to pay for imports of food, fuel, medicine and other basic necessities, causing widespread shortages and desperation among its 22 million inhabitants. The country is seeking help from neighboring India, China and the International Monetary Fund.

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Rajapaksa announced that he would resign on Wednesday, according to the parliament speaker. Protesters have vowed to stay until the resignations are official.

In a video statement on Monday, the first since the weekend protests, Wickremesinghe reiterated that he would stay on until a new government is in place because he wants to work within the framework of the constitution.

“A government must operate according to law. I am here to protect the constitution and through it meet the demands of the people,” Wickremesinghe said. “What we need today is a multi-party government and we will take steps to establish it.”

The president has not been seen or heard from publicly since Saturday and his whereabouts are unknown. But his office said on Sunday it had ordered the immediate distribution of a batch of cooking gas to the public, indicating he was still at work.

Months of protests have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

Wickremesinghe also explained the sequence of events that led to the fire at his private residence on Saturday. He said protesters gathered around his house after a lawmaker, in what Wickremesinghe called an inaccurate tweet, said he refused to resign during a meeting of parliamentary party leaders.

Police charged with batons and fired tear gas, he said, adding: “The last option was to shoot. We didn’t shoot but they came and burned the house.”

A group of nine cabinet ministers said on Monday they would step down immediately to make way for a multiparty government, outgoing justice minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe said. Wickremesinghe’s office said another group that met with him decided to stay until a new government was formed.

Talks by opposition party leaders to form an alternative unity government are an urgent requirement of a bankrupt nation to continue talks with the IMF.

Lawmaker Udaya Gammanpila said the main opposition United People’s Front party and lawmakers who defected from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition have agreed to work together. Main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa and Dullas Alahapperuma, who was a minister under Rajapaksa, have been proposed to take over as president and prime minister and have been asked to decide how to split positions ahead of a meeting with the president of the Parliament on Monday, but they failed to reach an agreement.

“We cannot be in an anarchic condition. We have to somehow come to a consensus today,” Gammanpila said.

Opposition parties are also concerned about statements by military leaders about public security in the absence of a civilian administration.

Lawmakers discussed Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva’s statement over the weekend calling for public cooperation to maintain law and order, said Kavinda Makalanda, door -word of Premadasa.

“A civilian administration is necessary, not the army, in a democratic country,” Makalanda said.

If the opposition parties fail to form a government by the time Rajapaksa steps down, Wickremesinghe as prime minister will become interim president under the constitution. In line with protesters’ demands, however, opposition parties do not want him even as interim president.

They said Wickremesinghe should quickly step down and allow President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to be interim president – the next in line under the constitution. The Sri Lanka Bar Association, the country’s leading bar association, also endorsed the position.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May to try to address shortages and kickstart economic recovery. But delays in restoring even basic supplies have turned public anger against him, with protesters accusing him of protecting the president.

When Wickremesinghe took over as prime minister to save the economy, he said it would take at least a year to complete the first steps needed for a full recovery.

Wickremesinghe had participated in crucial talks with the IMF for a bailout package and with the World Food Program to prepare for an expected food crisis. The government must submit a debt sustainability plan to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Sri Lanka is counting on the help of India and other countries until it is able to reach an agreement in its negotiations with the IMF. Wickremesinghe said recently that the talks were complex as Sri Lanka is now bankrupt.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a shortage of foreign currency. Its total external debt stands at $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Describing the fire at his residence on Saturday, Wickremesinghe said he had lost what he called “my greatest treasure” – his library of 2,500 books, including those written during the Portuguese and Dutch colonial period of the 16th century. and nineteenth centuries. He said there were old books written on Buddhism, those signed by leaders like former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, historic paintings and Buddhist artifacts, which he planned to give to his old school and to a university after his death.

He said he also lost his entire collection of paintings, except for one.

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