Sri Lankan leader promises to step down, appoints prime minister – Press Telegram

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Krishna Francis

COLOMBA, Sri Lanka (AP) – The Sri Lankan president on Wednesday promised to appoint a new prime minister, empower parliament and abolish the all-powerful presidential executive system as reforms to stabilize a country plagued by political crisis and violent economic violence. crises in memory.

In a televised address, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he condemned non-partisan attacks on peaceful protesters by the crowd who came to support his brother and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday.

“I am taking steps this week to appoint a new prime minister who has the confidence of a majority in parliament who can win the confidence of the people and a new cabinet to monitor the current situation to prevent the country from falling into anarchy and continue government who are at a dead end, ”Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.

“I will allow the new prime minister to present a new work program and implement it.”

Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he would also hand over most of his powers to parliament and, if the situation returned to normal, would take steps to abolish the country’s powerful presidential executive system.

The president’s speech came at a time when authorities placed armored vehicles and troops on the streets of the capital on Wednesday, two days after pro-government crowds attacked peaceful protesters, sparking a wave of violence across the country.

Security forces have been ordered to shoot those believed to have been involved in the violence as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began Monday night.

Anti-government protesters have demanded the resignation of President Rajapaksa and his brother over a debt crisis that nearly bankrupted Sri Lanka and forced its people to face severe shortages of fuel, food and other necessities. In the past few days, nine people have been killed and more than 200 injured in violent attacks during which crowds set fire to buildings and vehicles.

Armored vehicles with soldiers riding upstairs rolled into some areas of Colombo. Despite the curfew, some demonstrators regrouped in front of the president’s office to continue demonstrations that began more than a month ago. Police announced through loudspeakers that being in public places during curfew is prohibited.

Video posted on social media shows rows of military trucks leaving the capital, as well as soldiers riding motorcycles and setting up checkpoints across the country amid fears that a political vacuum could pave the way for a military takeover.

Senior Defense Ministry official Kamal Gunaratne has denied allegations of a military seizure of power at a news conference attended by the country’s army and navy leaders.

“None of our officers has the desire to take power. It has never happened in our country, and it is not easy to do it here, ”Gunaratne said. President Rajapaksa is a former senior army officer and remains the country’s official defense minister.

Gunaratne said the army would return to its barracks as soon as the security situation returned to normal.

The US State Department has expressed concern about the deployment of the military, and spokesman Ned Price said he was “closely monitoring” the situation.

The departure of the prime minister created an administrative vacuum without a cabinet that automatically stopped with his resignation.

Navy Commander Nishanta Ulugeten said former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is under guard at the Trincomalee naval base on the northeast coast.

After Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, he and his family were evacuated from his official residence through thousands of protesters who tried to break into a heavily guarded colonial-era building.

The Indian Embassy has denied allegations on social media that “some politicians and their families have fled to India” and rejected allegations that India was sending troops to Sri Lanka.

The Indian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for Sri Lanka, saying it had allocated $ 3.5 billion to help overcome the economic crisis and sent essentials such as food and medicine.

On Monday, supporters gathered at the prime minister’s official residence to urge Mahinda Rajapaksa to remain in office. After the meeting, crowds supporting the government beat peaceful protesters near the prime minister’s residence and the president’s office, demanding their resignation as police monitored and stopped them. Across the country, angry citizens retaliated by attacking government supporters and politicians of the ruling party.

Nine people were killed in the violence, including a ruling party lawmaker and two police officers, and 219 were injured, the defense ministry said. In addition, 104 buildings and 60 cars burned.

Pro-government crowds were chased, beaten and stripped. Houses of government supporters were attacked, some businesses were set on fire.

Pope Francis on Twitter called for peace in Sri Lanka.

“I have a special opinion for the people of Sri Lanka, especially the youth,” he said.

“I urge everyone to maintain a peaceful approach without resorting to violence. I appeal to all those responsible to listen to the aspirations of the people, respecting human and civil rights. “

The European Union has called on the authorities to investigate and bring to justice those who instigated and committed the violence.

Sri Lanka is approaching bankruptcy and has suspended payments on foreign loans of $ 7 billion to be repaid this year with $ 25 billion to be repaid by 2026. Its total foreign debt is $ 51 billion.

The central bank on Wednesday called on the president and parliament to quickly restore political stability, warning that the economy faces further collapse within days.

“Even in order to make progress in debt restructuring, we need a stable government. The Cabinet, the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance – all this is necessary, “said the head of the Central Bank Nandalal Virasinghe.

“Without such an administration, it is very difficult for us to move forward.”

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