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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned Thursday from his sudden exile in Singapore, a day after fleeing the country he led for nearly three years.
Forced out by a civilian uprising over the island nation’s economic collapse, the 73-year-old Rajapaksa had left Sri Lanka before dawn Wednesday to escape public fury over an economy in free fall. He kept his country on tenterhooks even as he was on the run, first flying to Maldives and then missing his self-declared deadline for stepping down.
The delay helped him escape while he still enjoyed presidential immunity, but his maneuver sparked fresh protests in which one person died. His ouster now sets off a full leadership struggle.
“The speaker has received a letter of resignation from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa via the Sri Lankan High Commission in Singapore,” a statement from Parliament speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s office said late Thursday local time. The statement, issued hours after Rajapaksa landed in Singapore, said a formal announcement will be made Friday after the letter is authenticated.
“We don’t trust [Rajapaksa],” Marissa de Silva said. “We will have to wait til it’s officially announced tomorrow.”
Others said their movement was now about overhauling the system — that changing a person was not enough. “We will have to do this tenfold to send Wickremesinghe home,” university student Sandun Ravihara said. “He is also a symbol of everything Gota stood for.”
Rajapaksa’s exit brings a sordid end to the storied Rajapaksa dynasty that has dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades. Many hold the Rajapaksa family, which until recently also held the positions of prime minister and finance minister, responsible for the economic mismanagement that has brought the country to economic collapse.
The crisis has left Sri Lanka unable to repay its foreign debt and with little money to import much-needed fuel and food. Fuel is in dangerously short supply and prices for essential items like rice have doubled from a year ago.
The deposed president was allowed into Singapore on a private visit, a spokesperson for Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“He has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum. Singapore generally does not grant requests for asylum,” the statement said. It is unclear if Rajapaksa will stay in Singapore for an extended period or move to another country soon.
As the country waited for Rajapaksa’s resignation on Thursday, demonstrators withdrew from three major government buildings they had been occupying. Clashes with security forces left dozens were injured, including a police officer and a soldier. The military barricaded the road leading to Parliament, one of the few political landmarks that protesters had not seized.
The leadership turmoil in the country threatens to pull the island nation deeper into a political abyss and risks further delay for a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. Protesters and opposition leaders have criticized Wickremesinghe’s role as acting president, further complicating his challenge to take charge.
The protesters’ surprise decision to withdraw from those buildings, including the residences of the president and the prime minister, was seen as an attempt to dial down rising tensions. They said they would remain in the presidential office to symbolize what they call a people’s movement.
At the colonial-era presidential residence, police locked the main building’s large white doors as some of the interlopers scrambled for a final selfie. Oshantha Dabare said protesters were leaving voluntarily. “Our objective of deposing the president has been achieved. We are leaving in strength,” he said.
Even as the site was cleared of protest paraphernalia, a bright yellow banner spread across a roof declared “Chase out the government. Save the system.”
The protesters have vowed to continue pushing for political change. Their demands include an interim government that will investigate allegations of corruption levied against Rajapaksa and his powerful family, as well as assistance with acquiring food and cooking gas.
“There was an attempt to paint us as violent yesterday,” said Swasthika Arulingam, a lawyer who has been involved with the protest since it began. “We are a nonviolent movement.”