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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned Thursday after being forced to flee the island because of a civilian uproar over the collapsing economy, Nikkei Asia reported.
Earlier this week, Rajapaksa announced he would resign Wednesday after thousands of protesters breached his residence over the weekend in protests against the country’s ailing economy. But he kept the country waiting until Thursday from exile in Singapore.
Rajapaksa had initially fled to the Maldives and appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – who also had vowed to step down – as acting president.
Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe issued emergency regulations that give him sweeping powers, including calling in troops to “handle” protesters. He has also ordered a curfew and authorized soldiers to use “necessary force” to prevent the destruction of property.
Analysts fear that his reaction will plunge the country into anarchy, 13 years after the country ended its devastating civil war.
Sri Lanka has been plagued by demonstrations, sometimes violent, for months, as the result of an economic meltdown: In May, the island nation defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time in its history. With dwindling foreign reserves, the country is unable to import fuel, food and other essentials.
Protesters have accused Rajapaksa of mishandling the country’s economy. They are demanding the resignation of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe and the creation of an interim all-party government.
Observers noted that Rajapaksa’s delay could be a ploy to avoid accountability and secure a “guarantee of non-prosecution” before he gives up his immunity as head of state.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan officials said that Wickremesinghe will be sworn in as interim president and hold the role until parliament holds a vote next week – a process that can take seven days, according to the Guardian.
Parliament will now reconvene Saturday to begin the process of forming a new all-party “unity” government.