COLOMBO- Crisis-hit Sri Lanka declared a nationwide state of emergency on Wednesday (Jul 13), hours after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country, the prime minister’s office said.
“Since the president is out of the country, an emergency has been declared to deal with the situation in the country,” Dinouk Colombage, spokesman for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, told AFP.
Police said they were also imposing an indefinite curfew across the Western Province, which includes the capital Colombo, to contain growing protests after Rajapaksa flew to the Maldives in a military aircraft.
Thousands of demonstrators had mobbed the prime minister’s office, prompting police to fire tear gas to hold them back from overrunning the compound.
“There are ongoing protests outside the prime minister’s office in Colombo and we need the curfew to contain the situation,” a senior police officer told AFP.
He said they were under orders to crack down against demonstrators disrupting the functioning of the state.
President Rajapaksa flew out of the country to the Maldives early on Wednesday, after promising on the weekend to resign and clear the way for a “peaceful transition of power”.
As president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest, and he is believed to have wanted to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
He, his wife and a bodyguard were among four passengers on board an Antonov-32 military aircraft which took off from the main international airport heading for the neighbouring Maldives, according to immigration sources.
“Their passports were stamped and they boarded the special air force flight,” an immigration official involved in the process told AFP.
A government source and a person close to Rajapaksa said he was in Male, the capital of the Maldives. The president would most likely proceed to another Asian country from there, the government source said.
The president has not been seen in public since Friday.
Rajapaksa was due to step down as president on Wednesday to make way for a unity government after protesters stormed his and the prime minister’s official residences over the weekend.
That would make Wickremesinghe the acting president, although he has also offered to resign. If he does, the speaker will be the acting president until a new president is elected, as per the constitution.
Protest leaders, however, say the prime minister is allied to the Rajapaksas and have warned of a “decisive fight” if he does not resign by Wednesday afternoon.
“If we don’t hear of the resignation of the president and the prime minister by the evening, we may have to gather back and take over parliament or another government building,” said Buddhi Prabodha Karunaratne, one of the organisers of recent protests.
“We are strongly against the Gota-Ranil government. Both have to go.”
Amid the economic and political chaos, Sri Lanka’s sovereign bond prices hit fresh record lows on Wednesday.
The US Embassy in Colombo, which is in the central district of the city, said it was cancelling consular services for the afternoon and for Thursday as a precautionary measure. (AFP)