Dozens injured in protests outside prime minister’s office


Demonstrators celebrate after entering the building of the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Demonstrators celebrate after entering the building of the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Sri Lanka has been rocked by economic protests that have forced its president to flee and led to chaos in the South Asian country.

Here’s a brief guide on what’s happening.

Why are people protesting? An economic crisis that has gripped Sri Lanka was years in the making, according to analysts, with a series of government decisions compounding external shocks.

Over the past decade, the Sri Lankan government has borrowed vast sums of money from foreign lenders to fund public services. This borrowing spree has coincided with a series of hammer blows to the Sri Lankan economy, from both natural disasters — such as heavy monsoons — to man-made catastrophes, including a government ban on chemical fertilizers that decimated farmers’ harvests.

Facing a massive deficit, Rajapaksa slashed taxes in a doomed attempt to stimulate the economy. But the move backfired, instead hitting government revenue. 

What’s happened in recent days? Protests have been escalating in Sri Lanka since March, when public anger erupted on the streets over rising food costs, fuel shortages and electricity cuts as the country struggled to make debt repayments.

Over the weekend tens of thousands of protesters massed outside the president’s office and residence before breaking through security cordons. Dramatic footage showed protesters swimming in the president’s private pool.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces spirited Rajapaksa away to a naval vessel minutes before protesters stormed his residence, a high-ranking military source told CNN Sunday. Then on Wednesday, he fled the country with his wife and landed in the Maldives.

Who’s in charge now? Rajapaksa was due to officially step down on Wednesday, officials said, following an emergency meeting called by parliament speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. Wickremesinghe posted on Twitter that he was stepping down “to ensure the continuation of the government including the safety of all citizens.”

But he fled the country before stepping down officially. He then appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to take over the role of president.

What comes next? The protesters want the entire government to resign, and there is no sign of unrest halting unless that happens.

“We want to caution President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister and this entire government that 13th is the last day for you to be in power,” protest organizer Father Jeevantha Peiris said on Tuesday.

“Hundreds of protesters are already approaching Colombo this very moment. If by tomorrow such change does not materialise, the peoples struggle that led to this revolution will again be proved, shown through protests, stringent action and people power.”


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