Sri Lanka’s Chief of Defence Staff has asked the public to cooperate in maintaining law and order, and appealed to them not to damage public property after thousands of protesters breached the Prime Minister’s office today. President Rajapaksa and his wife have fled to the Maldives in a military plane.
Chief of Defence Staff General Shavendra Silva in a statement said he and the other heads of the armed forces have asked the Speaker of parliament to call for an all-party leaders’ meeting to resolve the economic and political crisis, the worst the island nation has ever seen.
The all-party meeting ended this evening, after which a statement said they have requested Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to quit and let the parliament Speaker take over as acting President.
Earlier today, protesters in Sri Lanka defied tear gas, water cannon and a state of emergency to enter the Prime Minister’s office after the President fled to the Maldives.
In a televised statement, Mr Wickremesinghe said he had instructed the military and police to do “what is necessary to restore order”.
But footage showed armed security personnel standing by in the grounds of his office as protesters, some holding national flags, milled and took pictures.
Mr Wickremesinghe, 73, would automatically become acting President if Mr Rajapaksa steps down, but has himself announced his willingness to resign if consensus is reached on forming a unity government.
“We can’t tear up our constitution,” he said in his statement. “We can’t allow fascists to take over. We must end this fascist threat to democracy,” he said, adding that the official buildings occupied by protesters must be returned to state control.
The protesters’ actions were a repeat of the capture of Mr Rajapaksa’s home and office on Saturday, when Mr Wickremesinghe’s private home was also set ablaze.
Former Sri Lankan cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya, who is among the fiercest critics of the island nation’s regime, in an exclusive interview to NDTV today said the blame for the protests squarely rests on Mr Wickremesinghe and Mr Rajapaksa, who remained glued to their seats as Prime Minister and President, respectively, amid the unprecedented economic crisis and despite calls for their resignation from the initial stages of the protest.