Protesters occupying the palace intend to stay until the president leaves Sri Lanka

Protesters occupying the palace intend to stay until the president leaves Sri Lanka

BUILD À DAY

The protesters who forced the President of Sri Lanka from his palace intend to continue to occupy the building until he resigns next week, as he promised.  

Hundreds of thousands gathered on Saturday in the district of official residences to show their anger at the unprecedented economic crisis that the country is experiencing and of which they judge President Gotabaya Rajapaksa partly responsible.

And several hundred of them managed to enter the presidential palace, scaling the gates as guards struggled to hold them off just long enough to take the president away.

“Our struggle is not finished”, explained Sunday Lahiru Weerasekara, one of the students at the head of the movement. “We won't give up until he's really gone,” he told reporters.

The president, a refugee on board a military ship and on his way to a military base in the northeast of the island, has indeed announced, at the end of a day marked by other acts of force by demonstrators , that he was ready to resign… next Wednesday.

Saturday's events are the culmination of relentless and sometimes violent protests in recent months over the country's food, medicine and energy shortages, for which residents blame much of the incompetence and corruption of the Rajapaksa clan, brothers who shared power for more than fifteen years.

In this once middle-income country, three-quarters of the population are now cutting back on their diets, according to the Nations which warned Sunday of a risk of serious humanitarian crisis.

Picnics and presidential chair

But on Sunday, for the demonstrators, the mood was one of joy. Joy of victory, since the president promised that he would leave his post. But also more immediate joy to enjoy for a few hours the luxury usually reserved for the leaders of the State.

Because they occupy not only the presidential palace, but also that of the Prime Minister, and the offices of these two leaders.

And Sunday morning you could see the crowd strolling quietly through all these buildings, taking advantage of the soft armchairs or queuing to take turns sitting in the presidential chair, admiring the works of art, trying out the grand piano or marveling at the air conditioning.

“When leaders live in such luxury, obviously they have no idea how ordinary people live,” Sri Sri told AFP. Sumeda, a Buddhist monk.

“All this shows what can be done when the people decide to exercise their power,” he added, pointing to the crowd around him.

Outside, some had taken advantage of the swimming pool on Saturday, and on Sunday in the park of this former residence of the governor of Ceylon at the time of British colonization, as in that of the residence of the Prime Minister, families picnicking were fucking all over the place, and temporary kitchens had even popped up here and there.

Waiting and urgency

The political situation remained uncertain on Sunday. If the president does indeed resign as promised on July 13, Parliament would then have one month, according to the law, to elect a replacement for him.

A very long delay given the state of crisis in the country . The Speaker of Parliament also affirmed that the legislators would appoint the new deputy president within a week. But no candidate seems to have gathered a majority of votes for the moment.

All officials, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, hope to see the political crisis resolved as soon as possible so that the country can tackle the economic disaster caused in large part by the loss of tourism revenue following an attack. jihadist in 2019 and then the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The country, which defaulted on the payment of its debt in April, is currently in negotiations with the IMF, which said on Sunday it hoped ” a rapid settlement” of the situation to allow “the resumption of our dialogue”.

The Chief of Staff called for calm, assuring that it was possible “to resolve the crisis peacefully and constitutional.”

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Parliament “to resolve this situation for the good of the country, not a political party.”

The future government “will have to work quickly to identify the problems and find the solutions in order to bring stability back to economic,” he said, adding that such solutions should respond “to the discontent of the people, who are so powerful and palpable, with deteriorating economic conditions.”