Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will step down next Wednesday, the country’s parliamentary speaker announced on Saturday. The president has bowed to popular pressure after violent protests in which the protestors stormed the president’s official residence and the prime minister’s house on fire in the capital Colombo.
Sri Lanka, a country of over 22 million people, has been mired in anti-government protests for the past month over a dire economic crisis. The protests boiled over on Saturday when thousands of protestors broke into the presidential palace and burnt down the prime minister’s houses. Video clips and photos of the incident show hundreds of protestors roaming around the presidential palace and bathing in the swimming pool. Some people lay on the home’s beds, while others made tea and issued statements from a conference room demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and the prime minister.
It is not clear that the president was in his fortified residence at the time. The government spokesperson Mohan Samaranayake said that he had no idea of the president’s location and movements.
In a televised statement, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced the resignation of the president on Saturday. He informed Rajapaksa that parliamentary leaders had met and decided that he should resign, and the president agreed. He will retain the presidential office until Wednesday to ensure a safe and smooth transfer of power.
“He asked me to inform the country that he will make his resignation on Wednesday the 13th because there is a need to hand over power peacefully,” Abeywardena said. “Therefore, there is no need for further disturbances in the country and I urge everyone for the sake of the country to maintain peace to enable a smooth transition.”
Opposition lawmaker Rauff Hakeem said that a consensus was reached between the parliamentary leaders for the speaker of the Parliament to take over as temporary president and work on the interim government.
The news of the president’s resignation triggered an eruption of celebratory fireworks in the capital and cities around Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said he is willing to resign to make way for an all-party government, his office said in a statement on Saturday evening.