Sri Lanka Crisis Updates: Sri Lanka’s embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged Wednesday to give up most of his executive powers but stopped short of yielding to demands for his resignation over the country’s economic crisis. The 72-year-old, in his first address to the nation since the start of a month-long protest campaign calling on him to quit, said he will announce a unity government in the coming days.
“I will name a prime minister who will command a majority in parliament and the confidence of the people,” Rajapaksa said in a televised speech. He did not name the successor of his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who stepped down as prime minister on Monday to clear the way for a new cabinet.
“I will work to give more powers to parliament and activate the key elements of the 19th amendment to the constitution,” he said, referring to democratic reforms he overturned soon after his 2019 election. Rajapaksa’s pledge to reinstate the amendment would deprive him of the ability to control senior appointments to the public service, police, elections office and judiciary. Sri Lanka has suffered through months of lengthy blackouts and shortages of food, fuel and other vital goods after running out of foreign exchange to pay for imports.
Latest Updates on the Story:
• On Wednesday, shops, businesses, and offices were closed for the third day as part of a statewide curfew that will last until Thursday morning. The president’s speech on Wednesday, according to another protester, was long overdue. “Where were you for the last 30 days? People don’t have medicine, people don’t have food, the entire country’s at a standstill,” Kavindya Thennakoon told the BBC. “The reforms he’s suggesting are not what we need. What we need right now is for [the president] to resign from office… It baffles my mind that Gotabaya Rajapaksa doesn’t understand that.”
• The president’s speech came as authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops in the streets of the capital Wednesday, two days after pro-government mobs attacked peaceful protesters, triggering a wave of violence across the country. Security forces have been ordered to shoot those deemed to be participating in the violence, as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began Monday evening.
• Anti-government protesters have been demanding the resignations of President Rajapaksa and his brother, over a debt crisis that has nearly bankrupted Sri Lanka and left its people facing severe shortages of fuel, food and other essentials. In the past few days, nine people have died and more than 200 have been injured in violent attacks in which mobs set fire to buildings and vehicles.
• Armored trucks with soldiers riding on top rolled into some areas of Colombo. Defying the curfew, some protesters regrouped opposite the president’s office to continue demonstrations that began over a month ago. Police announced over loudspeakers that it is illegal to stay in public places during the curfew.
• Videos posted on social media showed lines of military trucks moving out of the capital, along with soldiers riding on motorbikes and setting up checkpoints across the country amid fears that a political vacuum could pave the way for a military takeover.
• The Defense Ministry’s top official, Kamal Gunaratne, denied speculation of a military takeover at a news conference held with the country’s army and navy chiefs. “None of our officers has a desire to take over the government. It has never happened in our country, and it is not easy to do it here,” Gunaratne said. President Rajapaksa is a former top army officer and remains the country’s official defense minister. Gunaratne said the army will return to its barracks once the security situation normalizes.
With inputs from agencies