The struggle for power breaks out in Sri Lanka after the resignation of the president | International
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When there is a power vacuum, nobody knows exactly who is in charge or what should be done, so unlikely situations end up taking place. After being occupied for a few hours by protesters calling for profound political changes in Sri Lanka and a solution to the country’s acute economic crisis, the office of the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, remained this Thursday guarded by fifty soldiers armed with rifles. Inside, some of the young leaders of the protest wandered as if at home and took pictures at the president’s noble table, simulating the signing of some important decree. In the adjoining room, also colonial in style, a man comfortably watched an episode of The Flintstonesand the sheets attached by the occupants to the building’s wooden stairs were still there: “This is public property, we must protect it.”
Uncertainty gripped the streets of Sri Lanka on Thursday awaiting the resignation of the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which finally materialized late in the afternoon. From Singapore (after passing through the Maldives), Rajapaksa sent a letter to Parliament that must continue to calm the conflict, but that does not clear up the unknowns about the immediate future of Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa had to leave the island after the massive assault, last Saturday, on the presidential palace.
“drop go home” (Gota, for Gotabaya, go home) was read on Thursday in a multitude of messages on the seafront, some even made with plastic bottle bottoms. The flight of the president had been a partial victory: they expected his resignation and also that of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whom they consider to be his accomplice and both responsible for having led Sri Lanka to its worst crisis since independence from the United Kingdom in 1948.
The president and the prime minister had promised to resign their positions on Wednesday the 13th. Their resistance caused the pulses to rise in the street. Rajapaksa also appointed Wickremesinghe interim president and he declared a state of emergency. The demonstrators wanted to emulate the feat of Saturday and tried to occupy the prime minister’s office (they succeeded for a few hours) and Parliament (without success). Clashes between police and protesters in front of the camera left 45 hospitalized, according to Reuters.
Between calls by the military to maintain public order — soldiers were authorized to use “necessary force” to prevent attacks on property — Sri Lanka has lived through a waiting period in which anything could happen. The street is quiet or so it seems, especially since the protesters decided to withdraw from the occupied official buildings while waiting for the president’s resignation to take effect. The curfew —decreed for the capital from midnight to 5:00— makes the atmosphere rarefied.
The outlook remains uncertain. Parliament is due to appoint a new president next week. But the struggle for power is already open. Young people —the majority, students, protagonists of the protests— believe that it is time to change everything and traditional politicians try to use the force of the street to gain positions.
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“We ask that you do not play with us and do not underestimate the power of the people,” explains Chathura Bandara, a 29-year-old public health worker and one of the spokesmen for the protesters. The official proposal is to appoint a new president of the country on July 20. The protesters are waiting. “We are going to keep our protests peaceful. What we want is for the elections to be brought forward and for there to be a new plan. You have to give power to the people. It is the first time in Sri Lanka that, without weapons, without blood and without ethnic conflicts, the Government has changed and the president has had to leave, ”he adds from the office of Prime Minister Bandara, who labels the Rajapaksa, the family dynasty of the former president, of “corrupt”.
Winds of 15-M
Next to the garden of the colonial building — where the military and militants walk equally relaxed — there is a sealed gas station. The lack of basic products (food, medicine, fuel) and rampant inflation are the economic roots of the protests. Veenus R. knows this, a 52-year-old taxi driver who proves it while driving his red Ferrari tuk-tuk towards the pier from Colombo. At the slightest opportunity, he turns off the engine and takes advantage of the slope to drop down. You have to save as it is. “The price of gasoline is three times what it was a while ago. On the black market you can find it for twice as much”, explains Veenus, who laments the political situation in the country and asks politicians to make way for other people to find a way out.
On the promenade by the sea, the tents have resisted since April in a pattern reminiscent of that of 15-M that Spain experienced in 2011. In a section of about 500 meters of promenade, all kinds of improvised constructions with drums have been installed of water and food that is shared to spend the days and nights. The spirit of the indignados is breathed a little here, with messages that show the distance between politicians and their voters (“they do not represent us”). “We have taken the best of the protests we have seen in the world, and the 15-M one also inspired us,” says Bandara.
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