COLOMBO: Protesters remained on the streets of Colombo on Thursday, despite a curfew and heavy troop deployment, saying they will not stop rallying until Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe quits.
Wickremesinghe was appointed the acting president on Wednesday, hours after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Maldives to escape a popular uprising over the role his family — Sri Lanka’s most influential political dynasty — played in the country’s worst economic meltdown in memory.
Thousands of demonstrators stormed parliament and government buildings over the weekend and continued to occupy them after the president’s escape.
Rajapaksa’s decision to make his ally Wickremesinghe the acting president triggered more protests, prompting the prime minister to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew in the capital and surrounding areas.
“We will not stop the protests until the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resigns from his premiership,” Senaka Perera, a prominent lawyer representing protesters, told Arab News.
For months, people have been struggling with daily power cuts and shortages of basic commodities such as fuel, food and medicines, as foreign currency reserves have run out, making Sri Lanka unable to pay for imports. Protests flared up in Colombo in March and have grown since, spreading across the country.
Wickremesinghe was appointed prime minister after Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Mahinda, was forced to resign when demonstrations turned deadly in May. A senior opposition lawmaker, he has been prime minister six times, but has never completed his term.
“We were successful in ousting the president and the former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and now our target is to clear this man from office,” Perera said. “We are all focused on our goals, and we will never move from the site until we achieve them.”
People remained at protest sites despite an army announcement on Thursday that troops would “exercise their force, if the situation deems necessary.”
About 5,000 protesters gathered in the Galle Face Green park in Colombo, as they agreed to abandon government buildings. Perera said the number was expected to grow to 20,000 over the weekend.
Sri Lanka’s parliament is expected to name a new full-time president on July 20, if Rajapaksa files his official resignation letter.
The main opposition alliance, Samagi Jana Balawegaya, has nominated its leader Sajith Premadasa for the post.
Premadasa is the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa, who served as the country’s president from 1989 to 1993. He contested the presidential election in 2019, but lost to Rajapaksa.