COLOMBO | Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned Thursday from Singapore, where he had just arrived, while in Colombo protesters ended the occupation of public buildings while promising to continue to put pressure on power.
• Read also: Sri Lanka: Protesters invade prime minister’s office after president flees
The resignation letter, emailed to the Speaker of Parliament, was forwarded to the country’s Attorney General to review the legal aspects before being formally accepted, according to the parliamentary official’s spokesman, Indunil Yapa.
The head of state had fled his residence on Saturday, stormed by demonstrators who blame him for his mismanagement at a time when the country is going through the most serious economic crisis in its history. He had managed to leave the country on Wednesday in the direction of the Maldives, from where he took a plane to Singapore on Thursday.
In Colombo, witnesses saw dozens of people leaving the prime minister’s office on Thursday as armed security forces entered. Armored personnel carriers patrolled parts of the capital under curfew.
“We are peacefully withdrawing from the presidential palace, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister’s offices with immediate effect, but we will continue our fight,” a spokeswoman for the protesters said earlier. Hours before the withdrawal was announced, police pushed back protesters trying to enter parliament.
The protesting crowd invaded the offices of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday after doing the same on Saturday with the president’s palace.
Nearly 85 people were injured in the clashes and one man died of tear gas suffocation.
Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the presidential palace since it opened to the public after Mr Rajapaksa fled on Saturday.
Thursday afternoon, the doors of the building were closed and guarded by armed men.
Earlier in the day, Gihan Martyn, a 49-year-old trader accused the president of “playing for time”.
“He’s a coward,” he growled outside the presidential palace, “he ruined our country with the Rajapaksa family, so we don’t trust him at all. We need a new government”.
The army and police received new orders on Thursday to firmly suppress any violence, and warned troublemakers that they were “legitimately entitled to exercise their force”.
Nothing to scare Chirath Chathuranga Jayalath, 26-year-old student: “You cannot stop these protests by killing people. They will shoot us in the head, but we do this with our hearts.
Mr. Rajapaksa had promised to resign on Wednesday but no announcement had been made so far.
After a day’s stopover in the Maldives, he flew to Singapore with his wife Ioma and two bodyguards on a Saudia commercial flight. They were escorted onto the plane a few minutes before takeoff.
The head of state, according to local press, initially demanded a private jet, refusing to take a commercial flight with other passengers because of the hostile reception he received when he arrived in the Maldives on Wednesday .
He had been jeered at and insulted as he left Velana airport and a protest was held in the capital Malé to demand that the Maldivian government not allow him to pass through safely.
The Maldivian media report that Mr. Rajapaksa spent the night in the luxury hotel Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi, and draw a parallel between this opulence and the economic crisis that the Sri Lankan population is going through, the worst in its history.
According to diplomatic sources, the United States denied him a visa because he renounced his American citizenship in 2019 before being a presidential candidate.
Singapore will not be his final destination. The city-state said Mr Rajapaksa was on a private visit.
“He did not apply for asylum and no asylum was granted to him. Singapore generally does not accept asylum applications,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
According to sources close to Sri Lankan security, Mr Rajapaksa is looking to stay in Singapore for a while before heading to the United Arab Emirates.