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Sri Lanka begins choosing new leader

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Sri Lankan lawmakers met yesterday to begin choosing a new leader to serve the rest of the term abandoned by the president who fled abroad and resigned after mass protests over the country’s economic collapse.

A day earlier, Sri Lanka’s prime minister was sworn in as interim president until Parliament elects a successor to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose term ends in 2024. Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana promised a swift and transparent political process that should be done within a week.

The new president could appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by Parliament.

Parliament’s secretary general, Dhammika Dasanayake, said during a brief session yesterday that nominations for the election of the new president will be heard on Tuesday and if there is more than one candidate, the lawmakers will vote on Wednesday.

Dasanayake also read Gotabaya’s resignation letter out loud in Parliament.

Soldiers patrol outside the parliament complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka yesterday. PHOTO: AP

In the letter, Rajapaksa says he was stepping down following requests by the people of Sri Lanka and political party leaders. He notes that the economic crisis was looming even when he took office in 2019 and was aggravated by frequent lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.

Security around the Parliament building in the capital, Colombo, was heightened yesterday with armed masked soldiers on guard and roads near the building closed to the public.

In a televised statement on Friday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would initiate steps to change the constitution to curb presidential powers and strengthen Parliament, restore law and order and take legal action against “insurgents”.

It was unclear to whom he was referring, although he said true protesters would not have gotten involved in clashes on Wednesday night near Parliament, where many soldiers reportedly were injured.

“There is a big difference between protesters and insurgents. We will take legal action against insurgents,” he said.

Wickremesinghe became acting president after Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on Wednesday and flew first to the Maldives and then to Singapore. Many protesters insisted that Wickremesinghe too should step aside.

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