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Sri Lanka in political vacuum as talks go on amid crisis

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Sri Lanka was in a political vacuum for a second day yesterday with opposition leaders yet to agree on who should replace its roundly rejected leaders, whose residences are occupied by protesters angry over the country’s deep economic woes.

Protesters remained in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, his seaside office and the prime minister’s official home, which they stormed on Saturday demanding the two leaders step down.

It marked the most dramatic day of protests during three months of a relentless crisis that has pushed many to the brink to despair amid acute shortages of fuel, food, medicine and other necessities.

The protesters, who come from all walks of life, vowed to stay put until the resignations of the leaders are official.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Saturday he would leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down tomorrow.

Protesters look around at the president’s official residence a day after it was stormed in Colombo, Sri Lanka. PHOTO: AP

Wickremesinghe’s office said yesterday that Rajapaksa had confirmed his earlier decision to resign tomorrow.

Also yesterday, a group of nine Cabinet ministers announced they will quit immediately to make way for an all-party government, outgoing Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe said.

Wickremesinghe’s office said meanwhile that another group that met the prime minister decided to stay on until a new government is formed.

The president hasn’t been seen or heard publicly since Saturday and his location is unknown.

But his office said on Sunday that he ordered the immediate distribution of a cooking gas consignment to the public, suggesting that he was still at work.

Opposition party leaders have been in discussion to form an alternative unity government, an urgent requirement of a bankrupt nation to continue discussions with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout programme.