Sri Lankan president to step down on July 13, parliament speaker says

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COLOMBO — Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will step down next Wednesday, the country’s speaker of parliament said on Saturday, after a day of violent protests in which protesters stormed the president’s official residence and burned down the Prime Minister’s house. minister in Colombo.

President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a video statement that Rajapaksa informed him that he would step down from his post.

“The decision to step down on July 13 was taken to ensure a peaceful transfer of power,” Abeywardena said. “So I ask the public to obey the law and keep the peace,” he said.

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The announcement came after a dramatic escalation for months of anti-government protests over Sri Lanka’s severe economic crisis.

News of the president’s decision sparked an eruption of festive fireworks in parts of the city of Colombo.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also said he is ready to step down to make way for a multiparty government, his office said in a statement on Saturday evening.

Throughout the day, soldiers and police could not hold back a crowd of protesters chanting for Rajapaksa’s resignation and blaming him for the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.

Neither Rajapaksa nor Wickremesinghe were in their residences when the buildings were attacked.

Video footage on local news channels showed a huge fire and smoke coming from Wickremesinghe’s private home in an affluent neighborhood of Colombo. His office said protesters started the fire.

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There were no immediate reports of injuries in the fire. Wickremesinghe had moved to a safe place, a government source told Reuters earlier in the day.

Earlier in the day inside the president’s home, a Facebook live stream showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in the national flag, crowding into rooms and hallways.

Video footage showed some of them splashing around in the pool, while others sat on a four-poster bed and sofas. Some could be seen emptying out a chest of drawers in footage widely shared on social media.

Hundreds of people thronged the grounds of the whitewashed colonial-era residence, with few security personnel in sight.

Rajapaksa had left the official residence on Friday as a security measure ahead of the planned weekend protest, two Defense Ministry sources said. Reuters could not immediately confirm his whereabouts.

At least 39 people, including two police officers, were injured and hospitalized during the protests, hospital sources told Reuters. (Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe, Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Helen Popper, Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)


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