Sri Lanka latest updates: PM asks speaker to choose new leader

Ranil Wickremesinghe says new PM should be ‘acceptable to both the government and opposition’.

Protesters gather to storm the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office.
Protesters gather to storm the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office, demanding he resign [Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]
  • Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called on parliament’s speaker to nominate a new PM “acceptable to both the government and opposition”.
  • President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 73, left for the Maldives hours before he was expected to resign amid widespread protests over his handling of a devastating economic crisis.
  • PM Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency across the island nation, with the parliament speaker saying Wickremesinghe has been appointed acting president by Rajapaksa.
  • Protesters also continue to occupy the official residences of the president and the prime minister after both buildings were stormed on Saturday.
  • Sri Lanka is facing a severe shortage of fuel and other essential supplies and is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

This live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here were the updates for Wednesday, July 13:

PHOTOS: Sri Lanka protesters storm PM’s office as president flees

Thousands of anti-government protesters have stormed into Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office, hours after he was named as acting president.

Men and women breached military defences and entered the premier’s office after police and troops failed to hold back crowds despite firing tear gas and water cannon.

View photos here.

Demonstrators attend a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Demonstrators attend a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Rights groups tell security personnel to use caution amid use of tear gas: AJ correspondent

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Minelle Fernandez, speaking from Colombo, has said rights groups are asking police and armed forces to be conscious in their actions against protestors in light of their legal orders, and the power vacuum in the country – as security forces tear gassed and baton-charged demonstrators near the Sri Lankan parliament complex.

“People are sitting around either throwing up, trying to desperately to catch their breath, or trying to recover from the tear gas. It was such a thick wall of smoke that everyone in every single direction had to navigate through,” she said.

Presidential hopeful calls for immediate resolution

A senior member of the governing Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP) has called for an immediate resolution to the current crisis brewing in Colombo by proceeding to elect a new president and prime minister.

“The longer it takes will worsen the ongoing unrest,” Dullas Alahapperuma posted on Twitter.

Until recently, Alahapperuma was a minister and close confidante of President Rajapaksa, but is now planning to form a new party.

PM announces nationwide curfew

Acting President and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s government has announced a nationwide curfew until Thursday morning 5am (23:30GMT on Wednesday).

Anybody on the streets during this time requires a special clearance from the police, the announcement said. However, so far it doesn’t seem to have deterred protesters gathered in several strategic locations.

Huge crowds are still gathered at the prime minister’s office, GotaGoGama and several other places. Protesters have also gathered near the parliament.

At least 42 people were injured when security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters outside the prime minister’s office earlier. None of those injured were reported to be in serious condition.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo.

Switzerland advises citizens against non-urgent trips to Sri Lanka

The Swiss government has advised travellers to avoid unnecessary trips to Sri Lanka amid the South Asian nation’s political turmoil.

“Tourist and other non-urgent travel to Sri Lanka is discouraged (except for air transit via Colombo International Airport),” the Swiss foreign ministry posted on its website.

“The political situation is confused and tensions have increased. A deterioration of the situation must be expected,” it added.

Maldives gov’t faces backlash for accepting Sri Lankan president

Maldivians woke up on Wednesday to the news of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s surprise arrival on a pre-dawn flight, sparking a fierce backlash as the Maldives government was accused of helping the disgraced leader escape justice.

Rajapaksa fled to the neighbouring Indian Ocean archipelago hours before his promised resignation over Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis in decades.

The 73-year-old flew on a Sri Lankan Air Force plane with his wife and two bodyguards to the Maldives capital, Male, the Sri Lankan Air Force confirmed.

Read more here.

Sri Lankans living in the Maldives stage a demonstration in Male
Sri Lankans living in the Maldives stage a demonstration in Male to protest for the arrival of former President Rajapaksa [AFP]

Parliament party leaders call for PM, President’s immediate resignation grow

The party leaders have decided to call for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Lakshman Kiriella from opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Tamil National Alliance legislator MA Sumanthiran told media outlets.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo.

Demonstrators wait to enter into Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe's office during a protest demanding for his resignation, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the country's economic crisis, in Colombo
Demonstrators wait to enter into Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s office during a protest demanding for his resignation, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Acting PM asks speaker to nominate new leader

Sri Lanka’s acting President and Prime minister Wickremesinghe, has asked the speaker of parliament to nominate a new prime minister, his media division has said in a statement.

“Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has informed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to nominate a prime minister who is acceptable to both the government and opposition,” the statement said.

To build trust, future PM, president should not be from ruling party: Opposition MP

Opposition Member of Parliament Shanakiyan Rasanamikam says the future president and prime minister should not be people previously part of the government in order to build trust with the public.

“People have lost faith and hope in parliament … because the ruling party has at every single point have brought in laws that are unhealthy for Sri Lanka and they have just passed it because they have majority support in parliament,” he told Al Jazeera from Colombo.

“So you know, the way forward is for people to see somebody that has not been part of this corrupt system, somebody who has not been part of creating this mess should lead the country and should be acceptable to the people. Otherwise, it’s going to cause even more chaos. And the people of the country are not going to accept it, and the protests will continue and we will become a country like Libya.”

Protestors celebrate after entering the Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office premises
Protesters celebrate after entering the Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office premises, amid the country’s economic crisis, during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka July 13, 2022 [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Rajapaksa set to fly to Singapore: Reuters

Sri Lankan leader Rajapaksa was expected to head to Singapore after fleeing to the Maldives in the early hours of Wednesday, a government source in Sri Lanka told the Reuters news agency.

The source, who declined to be identified, said Rajapaksa could send his resignation to the speaker of Sri Lankan parliament after landing in Singapore.

‘Betraying our friends’: Maldives opposition leader

The main opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has opposed the granting of free passage to Rajapaksa.

“We are betraying our friends in Sri Lanka by accepting Rajapaksa, a hated figure in that country,” a PPM leader told the AFP news agency.

Defence chief says military, police will respect constitution

General Shavendra Silva, the country’s defence chief, has said that armed forces and police would respect the constitution.

“We have requested political leaders to decide the way forward till a new president is sworn in and notify us and the public by this evening,” Silva said.

The statement comes after Prime Minister Wickremesinghe called on security forces to do “to do what is necessary to restore order”.

Sri Lankans protest in Maldives

Sri Lankans have gathered in Male after Rajapaska fled to the Maldives.

Some Sri Lankans and Maldivians have criticised the government for agreeing to host Rajapaksa.

PM appoints council to restore ‘law and order’

Reporting from Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez reported that Wickremesinghe “has appointed a committee of the three armed forces commanders, as well as the defence secretary, and they have been tasked with restoring law and order”.

She said that is “alarming for the people of this country, because still, they are looking at the legitimacy with which Wickremesinghe is taking these decisions”.

She added that while the parliament speaker has said Rajapaksa appointed Wickremensighe as acting president in his absence, people have not seen an official letter of resignation from the president.

Sri Lanka
A demonstrator celebrates after protesters entered Wickremesinghe’s office [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

At least 30 reported injured in protest at PM’s office

At least 30 protesters have been injured during demonstrations at the prime minister’s office, according to the Sri Lankan news agency NewsWire.

Protesters, who have been on the receiving end of tear gas and water cannon used by police and security forces throughout the day, had earlier breached the compound.

PM tells military and police to ‘restore order’

Wickremesinghe has instructed the military and police “to do what is necessary to restore order”, after protesters stormed his office.

The demonstrators “want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president”, he said in a televised statement.

“We can’t tear up our constitution. We can’t allow fascists to take over. We must end this fascist threat to democracy,” he said, adding that the state buildings occupied by protesters must be returned to state custody.

Sri lanka
Demonstrators gather on the lawn after some of them entered the building of the prime minister’s office in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/AP Photo]

Maldives opposition leader ‘concerned’ about providing Rajapaksa safe haven

A leader of the opposition in the Maldives, Dunya Maumoon, has expressed concern about her country providing a safe passage for the beleaguered Sri Lanka leader Rajapaksa.

“Of course, we are very concerned about Mr Rajapaksa’s presence here,” Dunya Maumoon, the former foreign minister and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, told Al Jazeera.

A demonstrator pours water on a man during a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister
A demonstrator pours water on a man during a protest outside Wickremesinghe’s office [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Speaking from the capital, Male, she said: “I think Mr Rajapaksa should be in Sri Lanka to face the consequences of his actions. I am not saying he is responsible for everything that happened, but he played a major role in the economic crisis and there are other serious allegations against him. I know everyone is innocent until proven guilty but justice needs to prevail.”

“Certainly, the people of Sri Lanka and the Maldives will be very concerned, to say the least. One cannot create a situation that led to the collapse of a country and then flee to evade justice,” said Maumoon, who is currently the president of the women’s wing of the recently formed Maldives National Party.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo

Sri LAnka
Protesters hold Sri Lankan flags as they occupy the office Wickremesinghe [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Protesters breach prime minister’s office

Protesters have breached the prime minister’s office compound in Colombo.

That came after thousands of protesters gathered to continue to call for the resignations of the president and the prime minister.

There were no immediate reports of clashes with security forces, who had earlier fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters.

See photos here.

Sri Lanka
Demonstrators gather outside the office of the prime minister [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Rajapaksa has reassured his resignation, says parliament speaker

Rajapaksa has contacted Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and reassured him that his letter of resignation would be handed over before the end of the day, the speaker told local media.

“I appeal to the public to have confidence in the parliamentary process we have outlined to appoint a new president on the 20th and be peaceful,” he said.

Protesters had called for Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to resign by 1pm local time (05:30 GMT), but the deadline passed with no official resignations.

Parliament will meet as scheduled on July 20 to elect the president’s replacement, the speaker said. Nominations will be accepted on July 19.

Protesters say efforts ‘in vain’ if Wickremesinghe stays

Reporting from Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen says protesters have decried Wickremesinghe’s appointment as acting president, saying they also want to see him go.

He is “not a popular man at all among the protesters because they say he is involved. He has been supporting the Rajapaksa family, he’s been involved in all their misdeeds and mismanagement that have been happening in the last couple of months,” Vaessen said.

“They want him to leave as well,” she said. “They say if he stays here and he becomes the next president, nothing has changed at all; all protests have been in vain.”

Sri Lanka
Police use tear gas as protesters storm the compound of Wickremesinghe’s office [File: Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo]

Maldivians decry, praise hosting of Rajapaksa

Maldivians have taken to social media to vent their anger at their government’s decision to let Rajapaksa into the country.

Many are saying the Maldivian government is helping Rajapaksa, who has been accused of war crimes, evade justice in Sri Lanka.

“How dare you give him sanctuary in our country?” posted one Aimon Latheef on Twitter. “Send him back to #SriLanka. Make him face his people.”

Some, however, praised the government’s decision, noting that Sri Lanka has given sanctuary to many Maldivians who have fled the country for fear of persecution during turbulent periods in the island nation’s history.

“Sri Lanka and Maldives are brothers and historically, Colombo was the shelter for many politicians,” tweeted Ismail Zariyand. “In the absence of an arrest order, how can the authorities reject the transit of the Sri Lankan president?”

Timeline: How things got here

Sri Lanka, an island nation of 22 million, has suffered months of lengthy blackouts, acute food and fuel shortages, and galloping inflation in its most painful downturn on record.

Protesters for months have demanded the president’s resignation as the government has been blamed for chronic mismanagement of the country’s finances.

Rajapaksa is expected to resign later on Wednesday.

How did things get here? Read more here.

Sri Lanka
People line up to visit the President’s House in Colombo [File: Arun Sankar/AFP]

Wickremesinghe now acting president: Speaker of Parliament

Speaker Abeywardene has told reporters that President Rajapaksa has informed him that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe “has been appointed to cover the duties of his post”.

The announcement comes after Wickremesinghe claimed to be acting president and imposed a nationwide state of emergency amid protests at his office.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo

Protesters storm Wickremesinghe’s office demanding his resignation after President Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka [Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo]

Tear gas used on protesters

Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen reported there is “a lot of anger here on the streets of Colombo”.

At the prime minister’s office, “police fired tear gas and water cannon”, she said.

“You can see that a lot of military and police are now on the streets. They’re blocking the areas of the elites,” she said.

Protesters also took over Sri Lanka’s national television station and broadcast live from its studio.

Sri Lanka
Army soldiers stand guard during an anti-government protest outside the prime minister’s office [AFP]

‘Legal limbo’ as PM claims he is ‘acting president’

Al Jazeera’s Vaessen has reported “there is a legal limbo” in Sri Lanka as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe presents himself as acting president by declaring a state of emergency.

A spokesman said the prime minister’s office will explain the “legal explanation” for his actions in the coming hours.

“We haven’t seen an official letter of resignation and also the president before fleeing the country has not appointed an acting president,” Vaessen said.

“There is a lot of speculation that Wickremesinghe wants to stay in his position and even wants to become the next president,” she said. “And that’s something that a lot of people here on the street really don’t want to see.”

Helicopters hover over protest site

Helicopters hovered over protesters in Colombo, in what a protest leader called an “attempt to intimidate”.

“We don’t accept illegal state of emergency imposed by an illegal prime minister. We want both Gota [Rajapaksa] and Ranil [Wickremesinghe] to go, not to impose emergency rule,” protest leader Kalpana Madhubhashini told Al Jazeera.

“State of emergency wasn’t imposed to protect people but to oppress the people. We urge everybody to come and join the protest at Galle Face,” he said, referring to a main protest site in the city.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo

Sri Lanka
Demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest outside the prime minister’s office [AFP]

PM cannot declare state of emergency: Experts

Jayamapthy Wickrameratne, an expert on constitutional affairs, has told Al Jazeera that the prime minister cannot declare a state of emergency.

“The state of emergency cannot be declared [in] such a way. Before declaring [a] state of emergency, he [Wickremesinghe] needs to be appointed as acting president, but it has not happened yet,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is an illegal order. The prime minister doesn’t have powers under the constitution to declare an emergency.”

Following the PM’s state of emergency declaration, the speaker’s office confirmed to Al Jazeera that it had not yet received President Rajapaksa’s resignation, meaning no acting president had yet been put in place.

Lawyer Suren Fernando, also an expert on constitutional affairs, told Al Jazeera a state of emergency can only be declared by the president or acting president.

“Under Article 37 of Sri Lanka’s constitution, one would only be appointed as acting president if the incumbent has been sacked or the post has been vacated,” he said. “There cannot be an acting president if none of these has happened. As far as I’m concerned, an acting president is yet to be appointed as the post hasn’t been vacated.”

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo

Sri lanka
Demonstrators stand on the wall of the prime minister’s office premises [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

‘Island-wide state of emergency’ declared: PM’s office

A spokesperson for the prime minister’s office has said “an islandwide state of emergency has been declared with immediate effect” in Sri Lanka.

A curfew was also declared in the Western Province, where Colombo is located, spokesperson Shanuka Karunaratne said.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo

sri lanka
Protesters shout slogans against President Rajapaksa outside his office in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

Protesters ‘waiting to see’ what president will do

Reporting from Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Vaessen said protesters are waiting for Rajapaksa’s official resignation.

They have given a deadline of 1pm local time (5:30 GMT) for Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to resign.

“They want an official formal resignation, which they don’t have so far. If that’s not been given, they will take to the streets massively again like what we saw last Saturday when … hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans came to Colombo and stormed the presidential residency and the prime minister’s house was burned,” she said.

Key members of governing party want PM as president: Report

Key members of Sri Lanka’s governing party are keen to back Wickremesinghe as their presidential nominee, though no decision has been taken yet, a top party source has told Reuters news agency.

The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the members met on Tuesday evening and their “overwhelming consensus” was for Wickremesinghe to replace Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives days after protesters stormed his residence on Saturday.

Protesters have also demanded the resignation of Wickremesinghe, who himself has offered to resign as prime minister to make way for a unity government.

Sri Lanka's new prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Protesters have also called for the resignation of Wickremesinghe [File: Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

Protesters march on prime minister’s office

Many protesters have been injured in a melee after tear gas was used on them as they marched towards Wickremesinghe’s office.

“At least 1,500 protesters have gathered and we are urging [Wickremesinghe] also to resign immediately,” protest leader Shabeer Mohamed told Al Jazeera.

“If [he] doesn’t resign, we wouldn’t hand over the buildings we occupied and continue our protest,” he said.

“At the meeting with the party leaders yesterday, the opposition parties also agree that the prime minister should go. It is one of our six key demands of the Aragalaya,” he added, using the Sinhala word for “struggle” which has been used to describe the protest movement.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo

Sri Lanka crisis
A protester waves the national flag outside the president’s office in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

India denies it helped Sri Lankan leader escape

India “categorically denies baseless and speculative media reports” that it helped Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa escape to another country, India’s High Commission in Sri Lanka has tweeted.

“It is reiterated that India will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka as they seek to realise their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional framework,” the tweet said.

President’s resignation may reach speaker by midday

The speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament could receive Rajapaksa’s resignation letter by midday on Wednesday, an official from the speaker’s office told Al Jazeera, after the leader fled to the Maldives following widespread protests.

“The speaker is yet to receive the president’s resignation. It is expected he’d receive it during the day, today,” the official said. “The speaker would inform the media, and the general public as soon as he receives it.”

Protesters have warned of a “decisive fight” if Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe do not resign by the afternoon.

Reporting by Saroj Pathirana in Colombo

Sri Lankans continue to visit President’s House

On Wednesday morning, Sri Lankans continued to stream into the colonial-era President’s House.

A growing line of people waited to enter the residence, many of whom had travelled from outside Colombo on public transport.

“What Rajapaksa did – flee the country – is a timid act,” said Bhasura Wickremesinghe, a 24-year-old engineering student, who came with friends.

“I am not celebrating. There is no point celebrating. We have nothing in this country at the moment.”

Sri Lanka crisis
Protesters shout slogans against Gotabaya Rajapaksa outside his office in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

When will the Sri Lankan president resign?

Rajapaksa is not expected to resign until he reaches his final destination, sources tell Al Jazeera.

The president would most likely proceed to another Asian country from the Maldives, a government source said.

Saman Ekanayake, secretary to the prime minister, was told that the presidential secretariat is yet to receive his letter of resignation.

As a result, Wickremesinghe has not made any preparation to take oath as temporary president, a source from the prime minister’s office told Al Jazeera.

Sri Lanka president flees to the Maldives

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards flew on a Sri Lankan Air Force plane to Male, the capital of the Maldives, the Sri Lankan Air Force confirmed in a statement to Al Jazeera.

The president’s flight brings an end to the rule of the powerful Rajapksa clan that has dominated politics in the South Asian nation for the last two decades.

Read more here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies