Demonstrators celebrate after they entered into Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office during a protest demanding for his resignation in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)
2 hr ago

Here’s what life is like in Sri Lanka in the midst of its economic crisis

From CNN’s Heather Chen

A man carries a Liquefied Petroleum Gas cylinder after collecting it at distribution point in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 12.
A man carries a Liquefied Petroleum Gas cylinder after collecting it at distribution point in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 12. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

Sri Lanka, an island nation of 22 million, is suffering from its worst financial crisis since it gained independence in 1948.

Crippling inflation is sending the cost of basic goods skyrocketing. Its foreign exchange reserves plummeted to record lows, with dollars running out to pay for essential imports including food, medicine and fuel.

Government ministers were resigning en masse and Sri Lankans are out on the streets to protest as the crisis has turned their daily lives into an endless cycle of waiting in lines for basic goods, many of which are being rationed.

Despite earlier efforts by the government to ease the crisis, like the introduction of a four-day work week, then-Prime Minister 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 civilians clashing with police and the 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.
Trains have reduced in frequency, forcing travelers to squeeze into compartments and even sit precariously on top of them as they commute to work.
Patients are unable to travel to hospitals due to the fuel shortage and food prices are soaring. Rice, a staple in the South Asian nation, has disappeared from shelves in many shops and supermarkets.

How we got here: The crisis has been years in the making, said experts, who point to a series of government decisions that compounded external shocks.

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

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

Facing a massive deficit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa slashed taxes in a doomed attempt to stimulate the economy.

But the move backfired, instead hitting government revenue. That prompted rating agencies to downgrade Sri Lanka to near default levels, meaning the country lost access to overseas markets.

Sri Lanka then had to fall back on its foreign exchange reserves to pay off government debt, shrinking its reserves. This impacted imports of fuel and other essentials, which sent prices soaring.

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

However, the plunging of the rupee against the US dollar only made things worse for ordinary Sri Lankans.

Public frustration and anger erupted on March 31, when demonstrators hurled bricks and started fires outside the President’s private residence. On Saturday, protests boiled over as people stormed the residence, calling for his resignation. In the latest developments, President Rajapaksa fled to Maldives and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was appointed as acting president. Currently, Sri Lankans are still protesting on the streets and there is a lot of uncertainty over who is in charge and what the outcome of this turmoil will be.

3 hr ago

UN Human Rights office calls for peace in Sri Lanka

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

The United Nations Human Rights office called on all sides of the political crisis in Sri Lanka “to refrain from violence” to ensure a “peaceful political transition” in a tweet on Wednesday.

“Leaders must call for respect of life+property. Security forces incl military must respect human rights & exercise restraint,” the tweet read.

3 hr 50 min ago

Crowds of protesters gather outside Sri Lankan parliament speaker’s office

From Rukshana Rizwie in Colombo

Crowds of protesters in Colombo have now amassed outside the Sri Lankan parliament speaker’s office, video from the scene shows.

Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said during a televised briefing earlier Wednesday that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had confirmed his resignation to him via a phone call, but that he was still waiting on the formal letter.

As per Sri Lanka’s constitution, Rajapaksa’s resignation is only considered official once the Speaker of the Parliament receives a letter of resignation.

Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives with first lady Ioma Rajapaksa earlier Wednesday.

3 hr 50 min ago

Sri Lanka’s parliament speaker says president confirmed resignation but official letter is still needed

From CNN’s Rukshana Rizwie in Colombo

Sri Lanka’s speaker of the parliament said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa confirmed his resignation over the phone on Wednesday, but that he is still waiting for the official document confirming it.

“With regards to an official document signifying it, I was told that it would reach me within the day today,” Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said during a televised briefing.

Rajapaksa was due to formally resign on Wednesday after being forced to step down in the wake of months-long protests over the nation’s crippling economic crisis.

Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaves after casting his vote during the presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Novermber 16, 2019.
Sri Lanka People’s Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaves after casting his vote during the presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Novermber 16, 2019. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Remember: As per Sri Lanka’s constitution, Rajapaksa’s resignation is only considered official once the Speaker of the Parliament receives a letter of resignation.

Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives with first lady Ioma Rajapaksa earlier Wednesday.

4 hr 21 min ago

In pictures: Turmoil in Sri Lanka as protesters storm prime minister’s office

Protesters in Sri Lanka stormed the prime minister’s office on Wednesday, demanding the country’s leaders step down after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives without resigning.

See images from the ground in the commercial capital of Colombo here:

Demonstrators celebrate after they entered into Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office during a protest demanding for his resignation in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Demonstrators celebrate after they entered into Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office during a protest demanding for his resignation in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)
Demonstrators shout slogans and wave Sri Lankan flags during an anti-government protest inside the office building of Sri Lanka's prime minister in Colombo on July 13.
Demonstrators shout slogans and wave Sri Lankan flags during an anti-government protest inside the office building of Sri Lanka’s prime minister in Colombo on July 13. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters climb the front gate of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Protesters climb the front gate of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)
Army personnel use tear gas to disperse demonstrators during an anti-government protest outside the office of Sri Lanka's prime minister in Colombo on July 13.
Army personnel use tear gas to disperse demonstrators during an anti-government protest outside the office of Sri Lanka’s prime minister in Colombo on July 13. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester confronts soldiers during a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 13, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A protester confronts soldiers during a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 13, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)
A protester wearing swimming goggles shouts slogans during a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 13, in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A protester wearing swimming goggles shouts slogans during a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 13, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)
People carry an injured protester during a protest outside Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
People carry an injured protester during a protest outside Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Demonstrators gather outside the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Demonstrators gather outside the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Military personnel in gas masks stand guard during a protest by people seeking the ouster of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe amid the ongoing crisis in Colombo on July 13.
Military personnel in gas masks stand guard during a protest by people seeking the ouster of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe amid the ongoing crisis in Colombo on July 13. (Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)

5 hr 5 min ago

Sri Lanka in chaos as protests force president to flee. Here’s what you need to know

Protestors climb the front gate of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Protestors climb the front gate of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Angry protesters have forced Sri Lanka’s president from the country and are calling for the government to fall. Here’s what you need to know at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a day of chaos in the country.

  • Leader flees: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives without resigning, despite being expected to formally step down on Wednesday. He appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as its acting leader, citing a section of the constitution that allows a prime minister to “discharge the powers, duties and functions of the office of president” when the president is ill or “absent” from Sri Lanka.
  • Protesters storm government: Hundreds of demonstrators breached the compound of the prime minister’s office in Sri Lanka’s largest city Colombo on Wednesday and entered the premises, following a standoff with armed police at the gates of the property, according to footage from the scene and local witnesses.
  • Economic crisis: Rajapaksa’s departure further enraged protesters, who want both leaders to vacate their roles as the country’s 22 million people struggle to buy basic goods, fuel and medicine.
  • State of emergency: As demonstrators took to the streets, Prime Minister’s Wickremesinghe’s office declared a state of emergency and a curfew, only to later cancel both orders. He has since appointed a committee of senior armed forces commanders to “restore law and order.”
  • Broadcaster strikes deal: A handful of protesters also entered the premises of state broadcaster Sri Lanka Rupavahini on Wednesday, negotiating a “deal” with broadcast staff not to give airtime to politicians such as Wickremesinghe.
  • Long-term causes: An economic crisis that has gripped Sri Lanka was years in the making, according to analysts, with a series of government decisions compounding external shocks.

5 hr 15 min ago

Dozens injured in protests outside prime minister’s office

From Rukshana Rizwie in Colombo

Demonstrators carry an injured person during a clash in front of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Demonstrators carry an injured person during a clash in front of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

At least 30 people needed hospital treatment for injuries sustained in protests outside the Sri Lankan prime minister’s office on Wednesday.

A nurse at Colombo National Hospital told CNN that many people were brought in due to tear gas inhalation, while others had cuts and bruises likely from trying to jump over fences. The nurse did not confirm any gunshot injuries.

The grounds of the prime minister’s office were taken over by protesters on Wednesday following a standoff with armed police at the gates of the property.

Sri Lankan police have continued to use tear gas to disperse the crowds throughout the day, according to footage from the scene and local witnesses.

2 hr 49 min ago

Sri Lanka’s acting president cancels state of emergency

In this file photo acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe is seen in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 12.
In this file photo acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe is seen in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 12. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

In his role as acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency across Sri Lanka and a curfew on Wednesday only to later cancel both orders, according to the prime minister’s office.

Protesters in Sri Lanka have since breached the compound of the former prime minister’s office and entered the premises following a standoff with armed police at the gates of the property, according to footage from the scene and local witnesses.

Wickremesinghe had earlier announced that he would formally resign as Sri Lanka’s prime minister on Wednesday “to make way for an All-Party Government,” as he had said in a tweet.

5 hr 46 min ago

Sri Lanka’s acting president appoints committee of top military staff to “restore law and order”

From CNN’s Iqbal Athas

Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed a committee of senior armed forces commanders headed by the Chief of Defense Staff Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva to “restore law and order” across the nation, a high-ranking military official told CNN Wednesday.

The committee will be tasked with issuing commands to troops on the ground and police across the country as they try to maintain order throughout the country, said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss developments not yet publicly announced by the acting president.

The decision was taken during a meeting of Sri Lanka’s National Security Council that was chaired by Wickremesinghe on Wednesday, the source added.

6 hr 27 min ago

How Sri Lanka’s runaway President went from war hero to fugitive

From CNN’s Rhea Mogul

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presents his national statement during day two of COP26 at SECC on November 1, in Glasgow, Scotland.
Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presents his national statement during day two of COP26 at SECC on November 1, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Andy Buchanan/Getty Images)

They were once seen as heroes of the nation, the almost mythical warrior-king leaders who defeated the separatists in a bloody civil war.

Yet the final days of Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa dynasty tell a very different tale.

In the early hours of Wednesday, embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made a hurried exit from the South Asian nation, days after thousands of angry protesters broke into his official residence, swam in his pool, and demanded he finally go.

He had been expected to resign later that day, but Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t wait around to make it official. Instead, before dawn, he boarded a military plane leaving Colombo, the commercial capital of the crisis-hit country, and fled to the Maldives.

His departure is a historic moment for the island nation of 22 million people, which the Rajapaksas had ruled with an iron fist for much of the past two decades before losing the faith of their once-adoring citizens.

As the country takes its first steps in its brave new era, experts say it would do well to consider what went wrong with the last one — starting with the rise and fall of the Rajapaksas.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not the first member of the family to have been president. His brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, widely considered a war hero, was elected president in 2005 and achieved near legendary status in 2009 when he declared victory in the 26-year civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels.

“The sight of Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing Sri Lanka on an air force plane represents (the downfall) of this family,” said Ganeshan Wignaraja, senior research associate at the British think tank ODI Global.

“Their legacy I don’t think is a positive one. But one hopes that Sri Lanka will move on in a new direction.”

Read more about Rajapaksa’s rise and fall here.

7 hr 26 min ago

Protesters breach prime minister’s compound and enter state TV headquarters

From CNN’s Rukshana Rizwie and Iqbal Athas in Colombo

Demonstrators carry the gate to Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Demonstrators carry the gate to Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Hundreds of protesters breached the compound of the Sri Lanka prime minister’s office and entered the premises on Wednesday, according to footage from the scene and local witnesses.

The grounds have now been taken over by protesters who are gathering in celebration, following a standoff with armed police at the gates of the property.

Protesters could be seen on the balcony of the property, lighting firecrackers and waving the Sri Lankan flag, according to witnesses.

A handful of protesters in the capital Colombo also entered the premises of state broadcaster Sri Lanka Rupavahini on Wednesday, people present at the scene told CNN.

The protesters then negotiated a “deal” with broadcast staff, which involved not giving airtime to politicians, including Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who has been appointed as the acting president of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Rupavahini agreed to the terms and was back on-air Wednesday with cultural programs.

5 hr 4 min ago

What are Sri Lanka’s protests about, and who’s in charge?

From CNN’s Heather Chen

Demonstrators celebrate after entering the building of the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
Demonstrators celebrate after entering the building of the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Sri Lanka has been rocked by economic protests that have forced its president to flee and led to chaos in the South Asian country.

Here’s a brief guide on what’s happening.

Why are people protesting? An economic crisis that has gripped Sri Lanka was years in the making, according to analysts, with a series of government decisions compounding external shocks.

Over the past decade, the Sri Lankan government has borrowed vast sums of money from foreign lenders to fund public services. This borrowing spree has coincided with a series of hammer blows to the Sri Lankan economy, from both natural disasters — such as heavy monsoons — to man-made catastrophes, including a government ban on chemical fertilizers that decimated farmers’ harvests.

Facing a massive deficit, Rajapaksa slashed taxes in a doomed attempt to stimulate the economy. But the move backfired, instead hitting government revenue.

What’s happened in recent days? Protests have been escalating in Sri Lanka since March, when public anger erupted on the streets over rising food costs, fuel shortages and electricity cuts as the country struggled to make debt repayments.

Over the weekend tens of thousands of protesters massed outside the president’s office and residence before breaking through security cordons. Dramatic footage showed protesters swimming in the president’s private pool.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces spirited Rajapaksa away to a naval vessel minutes before protesters stormed his residence, a high-ranking military source told CNN Sunday. Then on Wednesday, he fled the country with his wife and landed in the Maldives.

Who’s in charge now? Rajapaksa was due to officially step down on Wednesday, officials said, following an emergency meeting called by parliament speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. Wickremesinghe posted on Twitter that he was stepping down “to ensure the continuation of the government including the safety of all citizens.”

But he fled the country before stepping down officially. He then appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to take over the role of president.

What comes next? The protesters want the entire government to resign, and there is no sign of unrest halting unless that happens.

“We want to caution President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister and this entire government that 13th is the last day for you to be in power,” protest organizer Father Jeevantha Peiris said on Tuesday.

“Hundreds of protesters are already approaching Colombo this very moment. If by tomorrow such change does not materialise, the peoples struggle that led to this revolution will again be proved, shown through protests, stringent action and people power.”

7 hr 27 min ago

Police clash with protesters in Colombo

From CNN’s Iqbal Athas and Hannah Ritchie

A demonstrator pours water on a man during a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13.
A demonstrator pours water on a man during a protest outside the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

The office of Sri Lanka’s new acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe said he planned to call a state of emergency across the country, as protesters took to the streets of the commercial capital Colombo on Wednesday.

He also directed the Ministry of Defense to impose a curfew across Colombo and the rest of the country’s Western province after police fired tear gas on crowds outside the prime minister’s office, a ministry official told CNN.

The official, who did not wish to be identified, said Wickremesinghe ordered that “unruly persons and those traveling in lorries be arrested.”

Live video seen by CNN showed protesters marching toward the prime minister’s office building, shouting that the leaders are trying to flee.

Police used tear gas to disperse a group of protesters trying to break through barriers outside the building.

7 hr 34 min ago

Rajapaksa flees Sri Lanka after two failed attempts

From CNN’s Iqbal Athas and Hannah Ritchie

Sri Lanka’s embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife flew on Wednesday to Malé, in the Maldives, on an AN32 troop transport plane from the Sri Lanka Air Force, according to a high-ranking security official, shortly before he was due to step down.

Maldivian air traffic control refused the plane’s request to land until an intervention by the Speaker of the Maldivian Parliament and former President Mohamed Nasheed, according to the official. A spokesperson for Nasheed did not confirm or deny the intervention.

Sri Lanka’s Air Force on Wednesday confirmed Rajapaksa’s departure, saying in a statement: “Pursuant to the request of the government and in accordance with the powers vested in a President in the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka air force provided a plane early today to fly the President, his wife and two security officials to the Maldives.”

Rajapaksa was previously blocked from departing Sri Lanka at least twice on Monday, after refusing to join a public immigration queue at the Bandaranaike International Airport, a high-ranking military source told CNN.

Following his departure, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s office in Colombo, chanting and demanding that neither the president nor the prime minister “be spared.”

7 hr 37 min ago

Sri Lanka in state of emergency after protests force the president to flee

From CNN’s Iqbal Athas and Hannah Ritchie

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed president, just hours after the country’s embattled leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled for the Maldives.

His administration has been rocked by protests over an economic crisis.

Rajapaksa — who had been expected to resign Wednesday but fled before doing so officially — made the appointment, citing a section of the constitution that allows a prime minister to “discharge the powers, duties and functions of the office of President” when the president is ill or “absent” from Sri Lanka.

Read the full story here.

Source: CNN

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