Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after president flees: PM’s office

A man waves Sri Lanka's national flag outside presidential secretariat in Colombo on July 13, 2022. PHOTO: AFP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

COLOMBO, Jul 13, 2022, Agencies. Crisis-hit Sri Lanka declared a nationwide state of emergency on Wednesday (July 13), hours after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country, the Prime Minister’s office said, The Straits Times reported.

“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 Mr Rajapaksa flew to the Maldives in a military aircraft.

Thousands of demonstrators had mobbed the premier’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.

Tens of thousands of men and women overran Mr Rajapaksa’s official residence last Saturday, forcing him to escape to a military base and later flee the country.

Officials said he had promised to resign on Wednesday.

The protesters who stormed Mr Wickremesinghe’s office on Wednesday also demanded he resign.

Demonstrations were reinforced overnight by throngs of people arriving in the capital, Colombo, from across Sri Lanka.

Outside the president’s office on Wednesday morning, the atmosphere was generally peaceful, with young children accompanying their parents amid an atmosphere of celebration. People were digesting news that Mr Rajapaksa had fled.

“The thieves are running away,” said Sanjayra Perera, a university librarian who was among the thousands who had travelled to Colombo from around the island nation. She had brought her two children, 12 and 10, on Wednesday morning by train from the western city of Gampaha.

She wanted her family to be in the capital when the Rajapaksa family dynasty fell.

“This is our country,” she said. “We win.”

The crowd found patches of shade under statues, sat on the wall of an oceanfront park and waited in line, holding umbrellas to block the sun, for a chance to see the historic office building, one of three government buildings that protesters had taken over this past weekend.

Despite the uncertainty over whether Mr Rajapaksa would resign on Wednesday, as the speaker of Parliament has repeatedly said he would, and who might replace him, protesters were jubilant with the confidence that the end of an era was near.

“This is a historical day for us,” said Randika Sandaruwan, 26, who took the train on Tuesday night with nine friends from the nearby city of Negombo. “We needed to kick out our president, and now Gota is gone,” he said, using a nickname for the president.

Shameen Opanayake, 22, sat on the front steps with his mother and two sisters. They had taken an early bus from their home in Kalutara, south of the capital.

“If he doesn’t step down today,” he said, referring to the president, “I don’t think so that this place will remain calm. The whole country is rejecting him.”

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