(Update: adds PM resignation, unity government formation)
Colombo, Jul 9 (EFE).- Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tendered his resignation and said he would form a national unity government amid massive protests against president Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday that saw thousands of people storm both leaders’ official residences.
In a statement, the prime minister’s office said that Wickremesinghe was willing to accept the recommendation of the opposition parties, who during a special meeting had demanded his resignation and that of Rajapaksa for mishandling the crippling economic crisis afflicting the island nation.
It is hoped that the offer to form an all-party government will prevent the country from descending into chaos as it tries to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund, as well as deal with fuel and food shortages.
Distribution of fuel should begin this week, with the director of the World Food Program due to visit the country in the coming days, while the debt sustainability report for the IMF will be finalized soon, the prime minister’s office said.
MP and Sri-Lanka Muslim Congress Party member Rauff Hakeem, who was at the meeting, said on Twitter that the parties had asked the parliament speaker to “write to the president and PM to resign as per overwhelming request.”
Hundreds of protesters on Saturday entered the official residence of Sri Lanka’s president in Colombo, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as well as the prime minister’s official Temple Trees residence and the Presidential Secretariat building.
Rajapaksa had already left the area at the request of security forces, who were unable to contain the protesters despite firing tear gas, the Sri Lankan daily Ada Derana reported.
A spokesman for the Colombo National Hospital told reporters that at least 12 people have been injured.
Thousands of people from across the country gathered in Colombo on Saturday to mark the third consecutive month of protests to demand Rajapaksa’s resignation.
On Friday night, the authorities imposed a curfew in several parts of the Western Province, where the capital is located, after a protest march organized by university students.
However, the restrictions were lifted in the morning following criticism.
The Sri Lanka Bar Association said that the curfew was “clearly intended to stifle the freedom of expression and dissent.”
In a statement, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Justice Rohini Marasinghe, said that he was “alarmed” by the orders given by the Sri Lankan army to prepare troops to maintain law and order in the streets.
Sri Lanka is facing one of the worst economic crises since its independence in 1948 due to a fall in foreign currency reserves and massive debt.
Tensions escalated on the island at the end of March, when the authorities imposed 13-hour long power cuts, which triggered protests calling for the government to step down.
Since then, hundreds of protesters have occupied the vicinity of the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo and peaceful protests across the island nation have become commonplace as authorities try to secure a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. EFE