The president has not been heard from since protesters overran his residence, fueling questions about who is in charge.

Source: www.nytimes.com : 2022-07-10 15:42:35 : Vivek Shankar and Mujib Mashal

The uncertainty about who is leading Sri Lanka deepened on Sunday, as protesters occupied the halls of the presidential residence and office and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had not yet addressed reports that he plans to resign later this week.

The takeover of the residence on Saturday, with protesters swimming in the pool and taking selfies, was the culmination of months of discontent with a government accused of running the economy into the ground. In the hours after the demonstrations, there were more questions than answers about who was in charge.

The head of Parliament said that the president had agreed to resign and the prime minister, an ally of Mr. Rajapaksa, said he would step down as well.

But the chaos in the country — on the streets and in politics — is far from over. It’s unclear what the next government will look like and what it can do immediately to address shortages of food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.

Sri Lanka’s economy has been foundering for months, weighed down by heavy government debts from enormous infrastructure projects of questionable utility, a pandemic that wiped out the country’s crucial tourism revenue, and soaring fuel prices that have left citizens waiting in long lines for gas and cooking over wood fires.

Mr. Rajapaksa enacted a sweeping tax cut that trimmed government revenues just before the pandemic, which effectively halted tourism, long the country’s economic engine. Food has become scarce this year after a poorly executed plan to increase organic farming left Sri Lankan farmers short of fertilizer during the growing season. And as the price of oil spiked as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the government rationed electricity while cooking gas has become scarce. The nation even bartered for Iranian oil with tea leaves.

Local media reported on Sunday that Mr. Rajapaksa had ordered that about a month’s supply of cooking gas be distributed this week, a move likely aimed at easing the economic suffering that has led to months of protests.

With fuel costs rising globally since Russia invaded Ukraine, Sri Lanka has depleted its limited reserves of foreign currency to import fuel. India has lent the country billions of dollars, but now the government is having to turn to other allies, including Russia and Qatar, who have not said what kind of financial assistance they will give the island nation.

The statement from the president’s office could not be independently verified. But it appeared to be his first since protesters took over the residence on Saturday.

The news of Mr. Rajapaksa’s resignation came from Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the parliamentary speaker. The president, he said, will resign on Wednesday “to ensure a peaceful transition of power.”

But Mr. Rajapaksa hasn’t been seen or heard from publicly since protesters stormed his official residence Saturday in Colombo, the capital. They are accusing him of mismanaging the country’s finances and leading it to economic ruin. They notched a win in May when Mr. Rajapaksa was forced to remove his elder brother, Mahinda, himself a former president, from the post of prime minister.

The replacement, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had served in the position before, quickly began discussions with the International Monetary Fund on the terms of an economic bailout. But critics viewed Mr. Wickremesinghe as a protector of the Rajapaksas.

Protesters on Saturday stormed Mr. Wickremesinghe’s house, which was set afire in the ensuing melee. It was not clear who was responsible for the damage.

By the end of the day, Mr. Wickremesinghe said he, too, had agreed to resign.



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