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Sri Lankan Spokesman says President’s resignation has been accepted

#Sri #Lankan #Spokesman #Presidents #resignation #accepted

The Sri Lankan President’s resignation has been accepted, the crisis country’s parliamentary speaker said on Friday, after he fled the country earlier this week and announced his resignation from Singapore.

The formal declaration makes Gotabaya Rajapaksa – once known as “The Terminator” for his ruthless crushing of Tamil rebels – the first Sri Lankan head of state to step down since assuming an executive presidency in 1978.

He submitted his resignation via email from Singapore after flying from the Maldives to the city-state, where he initially escaped after protesters overran his palace over the weekend.

“Gotabaya has legally resigned,” effective Thursday, spokesman Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana told reporters. “I accepted the resignation.”

Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – whose resignation is also being demanded by protesters – automatically becomes Acting President until Parliament can elect an MP to succeed Rajapaksa for the remainder of his term.

The legislature will convene on Saturday, Abeywardana told reporters at his home, adding he hopes to complete the election process “within seven days.”

Rajapaksa’s departure comes after months of protests over what critics have described as his mismanagement of the island nation’s economy, which has left hardships for its 22 million people.

On a beachfront boulevard that has served as the headquarters of the protest movement that ousted him, a small crowd rallied their remaining forces late Thursday to celebrate his resignation.

Only a few hundred people were in attendance to celebrate the milestone, and many veterans of the protest movement were exhausted from the tear gas salvos and tense standoffs with security forces of the previous days.

“I definitely feel, I think the crowd here definitely feels pretty happy about that,” activist Vraie Balthaazar told AFP.

– ‘Private visit’ in Singapore –

Rajapaksa, his wife Ioma and their two bodyguards arrived in Singapore from the Maldives aboard a Saudia Airlines plane.

As president, Rajapaksa enjoyed immunity from arrest and it is understood that before resigning he wanted to go abroad to avoid possible imprisonment.

Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed is believed to have played a behind-the-scenes role in getting him out of the country and said Rajapaksa feared he would be killed if he stayed.

“I believe the President would not have resigned if he were still in Sri Lanka and afraid of losing his life,” Nasheed tweeted.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Rajapaksa was allowed to enter the city-state for a “private visit”, adding: “He has neither sought nor been granted asylum.”

According to Sri Lankan security sources, he is expected to stay in Singapore for some time before possibly moving to the United Arab Emirates.

The deepening economic crisis led Sri Lanka to default on its $51 billion foreign debt in April.

But talks have been derailed by political upheaval, and an IMF spokesman said Thursday the fund hopes the unrest can be settled soon so negotiations can resume.

The island has nearly depleted its already-scarce fuel supplies, and the government has ordered non-essential offices and schools to close to reduce commuting and conserve fuel.

– protesters exit –

In Colombo on Thursday, protesters evacuated several of the emblematic state buildings they had occupied in recent days after Wickremesinghe ordered security forces to restore order and declared a state of emergency.

Witnesses saw dozens of activists leave Wickremesinghe’s office as armed police and security forces arrived.

A curfew was imposed in the capital and armored personnel carriers patrolled some areas.

Hundreds of thousands of people had visited the prime minister’s compound since it was opened to the public after he fled and his security forces gave way.

As of Thursday afternoon, the gates were closed, with armed guards posted both inside and outside.

Police said a soldier and a police officer were injured in clashes with protesters outside the national parliament as security forces repulsed an attempt to storm the legislature.

Protesters also exited the studios of the state’s main television network after they broke into them on Wednesday.

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.

The military and police received new orders on Thursday to repress any violence and warned troublemakers they had “legitimate authority to exercise their violence.”

But student Chirath Chathuranga Jayalath, 26, said: “You cannot stop this protest by killing people. They will shoot our heads, but we do it from the heart.”

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