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New Delhi: The speaker of parliament in crisis-hit Sri Lanka has accepted a resignation letter from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, having verified its authenticity after it was flown from Singapore late on Thursday, he told reporters.
“From this point, we will move to constitutionally appoint a new president,” the speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, said on Friday. He added that until then, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will continue to serve as the president, NewsWire reported.
Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the country’s acting president on Friday. He had already taken on the role after Rajapaksa fled the country on Wednesday.
Abeywardena said he hoped to complete the process of selecting a new president in seven days and that parliament will reconvene on Saturday. The agenda for the weekend meeting will be decided on Friday.
“My intention is to conduct the necessary parliamentary affairs to elect a new president as per the provisions of the constitution as soon as possible. I request all party leaders to extend their support for this purpose,” he said, according to NewsWire.
Rajapaksa arrived in Singapore following a stopover in the Maldives, after he fled Sri Lanka amid a wave of unrest as his island nation grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades. He submitted his resignation to the speaker hours after arriving in Singapore.
Singapore’s foreign ministry said Rajapaksa had entered the country on a private visit, and had not sought or been granted asylum.
The announcement triggered jubilation in the commercial capital Colombo where protesters massed outside the presidential secretariat, defying a city-wide curfew.
Crowds set off firecrackers, shouted slogans and danced ecstatically at the Gota Go Gama protest site, named mockingly after Rajapaksa’s first name.
“The whole country will celebrate today,” Damitha Abeyrathne, an activist, said. “It’s a big victory.”
“We never thought we would get this country free from them,” she added, referring to the Rajapaksa family who dominated the South Asian country’s politics for two decades.
Street protests against Sri Lanka‘s economic crisis have simmered for months and came to a head last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the Rajapaksa family and allies for runaway inflation, shortages of basic goods, and corruption.
Sri Lanka had begun preliminary discussions with the International Monetary Fund about a potential bailout loan, but these have been interrupted by the latest government chaos.
IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters on Thursday that Fund staff were still in contact with technical-level government officials but hoped to resume high-level dialogue “as soon as possible.”
(With Reuters inputs)