Sri Lanka is facing one of the most violent crises in its history, since its independence in 1948. Inflation rose to 54.6% in June, strangling the population who also faced shortages of food, fuel and electricity. . Demonstrations have been organized in the country since the end of March to demand the resignation of the president and the government. From inflation to abandonment, “20 Minutes” traces the crisis that is shaking Sri Lanka.

Why did the situation explode?

Protesters have been camping outside the presidential secretariat for more than three months demanding the resignation of the president. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is accused of mismanagement of the economy. Sri Lanka is unable, due to a lack of foreign currency, to finance the most essential imports for the population of 22 million. In two years in power, the president has emptied the coffers of the state which went from $ 7.5 billion to $ 2.7 billion at the end of 2021.

Colombo defaults on its $ 51 billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a possible bailout. Sri Lanka has almost run out of its gasoline reserves. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce travel and save fuel. In six months the price of diesel has exploded by 230%, that of petrol by 137%.

Furthermore, Covid-19 has aggravated the situation. Typically, tourism accounts for 10% of the economy of the island, located in southeastern India. And visitors were already scarce after the wave of attacks that hit the country in the spring of 2019. Now, the inhabitants are so poor that 80% of them skip meals, according to the United Nations.

What is the turn of the crisis this weekend?

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the official residence area to express their anger. Several hundred managed to break into the palace, climbing over the gates as guards fought to keep them at bay long enough to exfiltrate the president.

The Prime Minister’s residence was set on fire in the evening and three suspects were arrested on Sunday, according to police. These events are the culmination of the relentless and sometimes violent protests of recent months in the face of shortages. The residents blame the Rajapaksa clan, brothers who shared power for more than fifteen years, and accuse them of incompetence and corruption.

Occupying not only the presidential palace but also that of the Prime Minister and the offices of these two leaders, the demonstrators obtained a promise of resignation from the head of state which should take place on 13 July.

Where is the disputed president?

Meanwhile, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is desperately trying to leave the country. On Tuesday, the leader found himself stranded at Colombo airport after a humiliating face-to-face with immigration officials who turned him down. Having not yet resigned, which he promised to do on Wednesday for a “peaceful handover of power,” he enjoys presidential immunity. He may want to take the opportunity to find refuge abroad.

According to a leading defense source, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s advisers are discussing an escape by the president and his entourage aboard a patrol ship. The bureau does not report on his situation, but Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains the commander-in-chief of the armies, thus having military means.

A navy ship had already been used on Saturday to transfer the head of state from the presidential palace besieged by protesters to the port of Trincomalee in the north-east of the country. Then, on Monday, the Head of State joined Colombo International Airport by helicopter. “The best option now is to go out by sea,” the defense officer said. “He could go to the Maldives or India and fly to Dubai.” Another option, the source added, would be to charter a flight from Mattala International Airport. In any case, behind the scenes, the escape of the disputed president is being organized.

Who to replace the future exile?

If the head of state resigns as promised, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will automatically be named interim president, but he is also challenged by protesters. Parliament will then have one month to elect a deputy who will exercise power until the end of the current term, i.e. November 2024.

A long time given the crisis. The president of the parliament also assured that the deputies would nominate the new president within a week. But no candidate seems to have collected a majority of the votes for the moment and the political crisis could continue.


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