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Sri Lanka protesters to end occupation of official buildings

#Sri #Lanka #protesters #occupation #official #buildings

Sri Lanka’s government protesters on Thursday said they were ending their occupation of official buildings as they vowed to press ahead with their bid to lower the president and prime minister amid a bad economic crisis.

Protesters overran President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s palace over the weekend, forcing him to flee to the Maldives on Wednesday, as activists also stormed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office.

Rajapaksa had promised to step down on Wednesday but there was no announcement that he had done so.

The prime minister, whom Rajapaksa appointed acting president in his absence, had called for state buildings to be evacuated and ordered security forces to “do whatever is necessary to restore order”.

“We are peacefully withdrawing from the Presidential Palace, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office with immediate effect, but we will continue our fight,” said a spokeswoman for the protesters.

A leading Buddhist monk who supported the campaign had previously called for the more than 200-year-old presidential palace to be returned to the authorities and ensure its valuable artwork and artifacts are preserved.

“This building is a national treasure and should be protected,” monk Omalpe Sobitha told reporters. “There must be a proper examination and the property returned to the state.”

Hundreds of thousands have visited the site since it was opened to the public after Rajapaksa fled and his security forces gave in.

In a televised address after thousands of people swarmed his Colombo office, Wickremesinghe stated: “Those who go to my office want to prevent me from carrying out my responsibilities as Acting President.

“We cannot allow fascists to take power. That’s why I’ve declared a nationwide state of emergency and a curfew,” he added.

The curfew was lifted at dawn on Thursday, but police said a soldier and a police officer were injured in late-night clashes with protesters outside the national parliament.

The attack on the legislature was repelled, unlike in other places where the protesters had spectacular success.

The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were admitted with injuries on Wednesday, with one man suffocating after being tear-gassed at the prime minister’s office.

– jeer –

Rajapaksa remained in the Maldives on Thursday, reportedly waiting for a private jet to take him, his wife Ioma and two bodyguards to Singapore.

According to local media reports, he had refused to board a commercial flight with other passengers after receiving a hostile reception upon his arrival in the Maldives early Wednesday.

He was taunted and insulted as he exited Velana International Airport, and another group held a demonstration in the capital in the afternoon, urging Maldivian authorities to deny him safe passage.

Maldivian media reported he spent the night at the super-luxury Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi resort.

They contrasted the opulent housing with the economic plight of his compatriots – four in five Sri Lankans skipped meals due to the country’s dire economic crisis.

Security sources in Colombo said Rajapaksa is most likely to leave the Maldives on Thursday and his retirement could be announced after he was airborne.

“The resignation letter has been prepared,” the source told AFP. “As soon as he gives the green light, the spokesman will grant it.”

Diplomatic sources said Rajapaksa’s attempts to obtain a visa to the United States were denied because he renounced his US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.

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