Colombo: Sri Lanka’s president submitted his resignation Thursday shortly after reaching Singapore, the parliamentary speaker’s office said, days after the head of state fled protests triggered by his country’s worst-ever economic crisis.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned by email, the speaker’s spokesman said hours after he landed in the city-state, after protesters overran his palace on the weekend.
Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on Wednesday, and left there for Singapore a day later.
“The authenticity and the legality of the e-mail will have to be checked out” before being formally accepted, Indunil Yapa told AFP, adding a formal announcement was expected on Friday.
Rajapaksa would be the first president to resign since Sri Lanka adopted a presidential system of government in 1978.
As president, Rajapaksa enjoyed immunity from arrest, and he is believed to have wanted to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe - whose resignation is also being demanded by protesters - would automatically become acting president until parliament can appoint a successor.
Rajapaksa, his wife Ioma and their two bodyguards arrived in Singapore from Male on Thursday.
Singapore’s foreign ministry confirmed Rajapaksa had been allowed to enter the city-state for a “private visit”, adding: “He has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum.”
A handful of Sri Lankans were waiting in one of the airport’s arrival areas to voice their anger at Rajapaksa and the economic crisis engulfing their homeland.
“I want to scold him with all the words that I know,” said a Sri Lankan design engineer working in Singapore, who identified himself only as Max.
“He’s responsible for everything that happened in our country,” he told AFP.
Singaporean authorities were quick to warn against protests - it is illegal for even one person to stage a demonstration without prior official permission in the tightly-controlled territory.
Rajapaksa is expected to look to stay in the city-state for some time, according to Sri Lankan security sources, before potentially moving to another country.
In Colombo, demonstrators left several of the emblematic state buildings they had overrun in recent days, after Wickremesinghe instructed security forces to restore order and declared a state of emergency.
“We are peacefully withdrawing from the Presidential Palace, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office with immediate effect, but will continue our struggle,” a spokeswoman for the protesters said.
Witnesses saw dozens of activists leave Wickremesinghe’s office as armed police and security forces moved in.
Armoured personnel carriers patrolled parts of the capital, which had been put under a curfew.
Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the PM’s compound since it was opened to the public, after he fled and his security guards backed down.
By Thursday afternoon, the gates were closed with armed guards posted both inside and outside.
Earlier in the day, business owner Gihan Martyn, 49, accused the president of “playing for time”.
“He’s a coward,” he said outside the president’s palace. “He ruined our country... So we don’t trust him at all. We need a new government.”
Police said a soldier and a constable were injured in overnight clashes with protesters outside the national parliament as security forces beat back an attempt to storm the legislature.
Protesters also left the studios of the main state television station after breaking in on Wednesday.
The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were admitted with injuries on Wednesday, with one man suffocating to death after being tear-gassed at the premier’s office.
The military and the police were issued with fresh orders Thursday to firmly put down any violence, and warned troublemakers they were “legitimately empowered to exercise their force”.
But student Chirath Chathuranga Jayalath, 26, said: “You cannot stop this protest by killing people. They’ll shoot our heads but we do this from our hearts.”
Rajapaksa is accused of mismanaging the economy to a point where the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people, with four out of five Sri Lankans skipping meals.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.
The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol with the government ordering the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.
Diplomatic sources said Rajapaksa’s attempts to secure a visa to the United States had been turned down because he had renounced his US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.