Riots erupt as president flees country
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on Wednesday. His departure infuriated protesters in Colombo, who rioted upon learning that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – whom they also want driven from power – had been made acting leader.
Rajapaksa’s office announced in the early hours of the morning that the embattled president had made it out of the country on a military plane, a day after staff at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport had refused to stamp his passport for exit. He is believed to be traveling further onward to Dubai, and is set to officially resign later on Wednesday.
Although Wickremesinghe has been made acting president, protesters have demanded that he step down immediately to make way for a caretaker government, and, eventually, new elections.
Crowds of demonstrators stormed Wickremesinghe’s house, which they had already set on fire over the weekend. Sri Lanka’s state-owned Rupavahini broadcaster went off the air as protesters took over the building.
Wickremesinghe responded by declaring a state of emergency, as police outside his residence and at the country’s parliament fired tear gas at the crowds of demonstrators.
Under Rajapaksa’s leadership, Sri Lanka has been driven to bankruptcy, defaulting on its foreign loan debts in May and introducing fuel rationing earlier this month. The economic turmoil has been blamed on a loss of tourism revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a climate-motivated ban on chemical fertilizers that halved the country’s agricultural output in a matter of months.
Rajapaksa’s government responded to rising costs by printing more money, further accelerating inflation. Concurrently, tax cuts have deprived Sri Lanka of vital revenue needed to import food, fuel, and medicine.