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Lankan crisis: Gotabaya resigns - A historic palace occupation unwinds

Now that the Operation Lanka Part I is almost over with the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Gotabaya on Tuesday signed a resignation letter dated July 13) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and a new Government under Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa as the new Prez is set to take over on July 20, let us take stock of what happened in the past few days in the Capital of a Lanka brought to its knees by an acute economic crisis, having run out of food and medicines for several months now.

COLOMBO, July 12: The centuries old palace that has always been the symbol power in Lanka was invaded by an agitated people in a popular uprising that posterity will record as an unparalleled historic event - an occupation so peaceful and orderly that never happened even in the cradle of revolutions! It's inexplicable that a massive stream of protesters from far and wide, tens of thousands of them, did not go on the rampage nor ransack the mansion although they emptied out the foods and drinks in the chests of drawers they could lay their hands on. They cooked in the kitchen, had playful workouts in the gym, frolicked in the garden pool, pretended to be taking a nap on the royal bed, lounged on the four-poster, or simply loafed around on the manicured loans. Most unlikely of crowd behaviour, they displayed bountiful honesty and incredible discipline when stumbled upon tons of banknotes stacked away in secret nooks of the glitzy palace! The protesters had a feel of what is opulence. In the next days the public joined in queues to go in, in order to explore how life inside a palace is, and saw what they couldn't believe!

The protesters who seized the Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's palace in Colombo on Saturday and were determined to stay put till the fleeing President resigns, on Sunday stumbled upon the stacks of currencies valued at 17.85 million rupees stowed away in hidden chests. The wads of banknotes left behind by Gotabaya was promptly handed over to the security men who presented them before a court on Monday.

The 73-year old leader had escaped from the palace before the protesters stormed his residence on Saturday. Later, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (73), who himself said he is resigning to help bring peace to the island, said Rajapaksa will resign on July 13. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday signed a resignation letter dated July 13.) But that did not placate the protesters who are camping in the premises in tens of thousands in strength, experiencing a bit of palace life Gota had been enjoying even as the countrymen were starving. They plan to stay in till the time both of them officially resign.

Under the Constitution, Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister, or in his absence the Speaker, will take over as the Prez for a maximum period of 30 days to facilitate an MP to be elected as President for the remainder of Gotabaya's term, that is until November 2024. It takes a minimum of three days for the parliament to convene and take a vote.

However, Wickremesinghe has announced he is resigning in order to facilitate installation of a national unity Government which could deal with the economic crisis of widespread shortages of food, fuel and medicines, which are imported for which foreign exchange is required. The crisis was caused by a depletion of foreign exchange due to a rising foreign debt burden amounting to $51 billion. The Prez has been accused of mismanaging the economy leading to the crisis the country is facing. Wickremesinghe's private residence in the city was set on fire on Saturday night.

Wickremesinghe, an Opposition legislator, was appointed PM after Mahinda Rajapaksa (76), the President's elder brother, resigned in May as a compromise solution to try to defuse the economic crisis.

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) party is likely to join the splinter group of the ruling SLPP and the smaller parties to install SJB's 55-year old leader Sajith Premadasa as the new President. It is reported Dullas Alahapperuma, 63, an ex-Minister, is tipped to be the new Prime Minister. But he is a Gotabaya loyalist.

Tens of thousands of protesters will continue to occupy the Presidential Palace, the sea-front Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister's "Temple Trees" official residence till they officially resign, which is finally underway.

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