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What’s next for Sri Lanka as angry protesters occupy its leaders’ luxury homes?


However, the protesters say they will not leave the luxury homes until both leaders have left office. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is expected to resign on Wednesday, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tweeted his resignation on Saturday but did not confirm his departure date.

The resignations mark a major victory for the protesters, but the future of the country’s 22 million people is uncertain as they struggle to buy basic goods, fuel and medicine.

Here’s the latest.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside the president’s office and residence before breaking through security cordons.

Shocking images shared on social media show them singing protest songs and chanting slogans calling for Rajapaksa to step down. The footage showed groups of protesters setting up grills to grill and cook food.

But the most dramatic images showed protesters swimming in the president’s private pool.

Later on Saturday, protesters attacked Wickremesinghe’s home and set fire to his private residence on Fifth Lane, an affluent neighborhood in the capital. Live video seen by CNN showed the building engulfed in flames as crowds gathered at the scene and cheered.

The leaders were not at their residences when the buildings were breached and were moved to safe locations before the attacks, according to security officials.

Protesters in Sri Lanka occupy the prime minister's residence.

At least 55 people were injured in the protests, according to local doctors on Saturday, who said the toll included a lawmaker from eastern Sri Lanka and three people with gunshot wounds. Videos circulated on social media suggesting soldiers fired on protesters outside the president’s residence, but the army denied opening fire.

Protests have intensified in Sri Lanka since March, when public anger erupted in the streets over rising food costs, fuel shortages and power cuts as the country struggled to pay off debt.

Police fire water and tear gas to disperse protesters gathered on a street leading to the president's official residence on July 9.

What is happening to the government?

Rajapaksa will officially step down on July 13, the officials said, after an emergency meeting called by parliament speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

Wickremesinghe posted on Twitter that he would resign “to ensure the continuation of the government, including the safety of all citizens,” but did not name a date.

Four other ministers also resigned over the weekend, the latest in an exodus of top officials. On April 3, the The entire cabinet of the Sri Lankan government was effectively dissolved due to mass resignations of top ministers.

Some 26 cabinet ministers resigned that weekend, including the central bank governor and the president’s nephew, who has criticized an apparent social media blackout as something he “would never approve of.”

Analysts and observers now say parliament speaker Abeywardena will likely take over the country temporarily until lawmakers choose the next president to replace Rajapaksa and complete the remainder of his term, which is due to end in 2024.

Following the weekend protests, the IMF said it was closely monitoring developments in the country.

“We hope to resolve the current situation that will allow the resumption of our dialogue on an IMF-supported program while we plan to continue technical discussions with our counterparts in the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka,” the IMF mission heads said. . Peter Breuer and Masahiro Nozaki in a joint statement on Sunday.

How is life now in Sri Lanka?

Despite previous government efforts to ease the crisis, such as the introduction of a four-day workweek, Wickremesinghe declared the country “bankrupt” last Tuesday.

In several major cities, including the capital Colombo, desperate residents continue to queue for food and medicine, with reports of clashes between civilians and police and military as they wait in line.

In early July, Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the country had less than a day’s worth of fuel left.

The crisis has been years in the making, experts said, pointing to a series of government decisions that have compounded external shocks.

Over the past decade, the Sri Lankan government has borrowed large sums from foreign lenders to finance public services, said Murtaza Jafferjee, president of the Colombo-based think tank Advocata Institute.

This wave of lending has coincided with a series of hammer blows to the Sri Lankan economy, from natural disasters such as strong monsoons to man-made catastrophes, including a government ban on chemical fertilizers that decimated farmers’ harvests.

Faced with a massive deficit, President Rajapaksa cut taxes in a failed attempt to stimulate the economy.

But the move backfired, hurting government revenue instead. That prompted ratings agencies to downgrade Sri Lanka to near-default levels, meaning the country lost access to foreign markets.

Sri Lanka then had to draw on its foreign exchange reserves to pay off government debt, drawing down its reserves. This affected imports of fuel and other essential items, sending prices skyrocketing.

On top of all that, the government in March floated the Sri Lankan rupee, meaning its price was determined based on the demand and supply of the foreign exchange markets.

However, the rupiah’s decline against the US dollar only made things worse for Sri Lankans.



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