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Sri Lanka awaits president’s resignation

Sri Lankans are still waiting for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a day after he fled to the Maldives to escape a popular uprising against an economic crisis blamed on his government’s mismanagement.

Rajapaksa was expected to next head to Singapore, though his planned final destination remains unclear. 

His decision on Wednesday to make his close ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe the acting president triggered more protests, with demonstrators storming the premier’s office demanding that he quit too.

Rajapaksa had repeatedly assured the speaker of parliament he would step down on Wednesday, but his resignation letter had not arrived as of early Thursday, an aide to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said.

Hospital sources said at least 45 people were hospitalised following a standoff between riot police and protesters on Wednesday night near the parliament building, as people demanded the removal of Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.

Local media said a 26-year-old protester who was hospitalised after being tear-gassed died of breathing difficulties.

“Some of the protesters who had gathered outside the parliament building have now dispersed,” police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa said. “The area is now calm.”

He said he had no information on how many were hospitalised.

An overnight curfew from Wednesday to Thursday imposed by the acting president ended with no arrests, Thalduwa said.

Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards left Sri Lanka’s main international airport near Colombo on an air force plane early on Wednesday. 

Maldives media reported he was waiting in the capital Male for a private jet to fly to Singapore.

Sri Lanka’s parliament is expected to name a new full-time president next week, with a top ruling party source telling Reuters Wickremesinghe was the party’s first choice, although no decision had been taken.

Protests against Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 have simmered for months and came to a head last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in the capital Colombo, blaming the Rajapaksas and their allies for runaway inflation, shortages and corruption.

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