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Street festival closes Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa era

#Street #festival #closes #Sri #Lankas #Rajapaksa #era

Exhausted and drained after nearly 100 days of protests, a small crowd on Thursday gathered their remaining strength to celebrate the Sri Lankan leader’s resignation at the seaside headquarters of their campaign to oust him.

A stone’s throw from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office, people smiled tiredly at their compatriots while dancing, handing out sweets, hugging or waving the national flag.

For more than three months, the beachfront boulevard has been home to a cluster of tents serving as a base for protesters demanding the resignation of the despised leader for his role in wrecking Sri Lanka’s ailing economy.

But just a few hundred people gathered to mark a major milestone in months of excitement when Rajapaksa emailed his resignation from a safe haven in Singapore after fleeing the country to avoid public wrath.

Many veterans of the protest movement were exhausted after enduring tear gas salvoes and tense standoffs with security forces in the previous days.

For others, the moment was marred by rumors that a legal formality could delay formal acknowledgment that Rajapaksa had indeed resigned.

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

“But at the same time, I think there’s always a sense of apprehension until we see the letter.”

Part of the small crowd that had descended on the protest camp on Thursday night danced to an impromptu call-and-response song by performers on a wooden stage sung through a scratchy public address system while a confused pair of Buddhist monks looked on.

Elsewhere, the camp continued its function as a safety net for the capital’s residents impoverished by the country’s economic crisis, with a group of needy citizens queuing outside a soup kitchen.

With the evening rains, Sri Lanka’s chronic fuel shortages and a government-imposed curfew to contain the unrest, almost everyone present had left by midnight.

– “people’s power” –

The subdued celebration was a far cry from the high-octane confrontations on the streets of Colombo over the weekend, when huge crowds pushed past troops to seize Rajapaksa’s home and office.

Soldiers had fired in the air to clear a passage for the president’s escape, mirroring the ignominious departure of his brother Mahinda, the ex-premier, from his own residence two months earlier.

Their departures, coupled with the resignation of finance minister Basil Rajapaksa in April, have wounded – perhaps mortally – a clan that has dominated the country’s politics for the past two decades.

“We feel really great. We showed the power of the people,” university student Anjana Banadrawatta told AFP.

According to the Sri Lankan Constitution, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe automatically becomes Acting President until Parliament can appoint a successor.

But protesters are also demanding Wickremesinghe’s resignation, accusing him of helping to shore up a political order that allowed corruption and authoritarianism to thrive.

Banadrawatta said he and others would continue their fight in the morning.

“We start tomorrow with new hope in a new fight,” said the 22-year-old.

But before that, he added, “of course we’re going to have fun and celebrate.”

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#Street #festival #closes #Sri #Lankas #Rajapaksa #era

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