A DAY after he fled Sri Lanka, disgraced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew from the Maldives to Singapore, where the government said he had been “allowed entry” on “a private visit” — and later sent his resignation to the Lanka Speaker.
Confirming the arrival of Rajapaksa, the spokesperson for the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “He has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum. Singapore generally does not grant requests for asylum.”
The Singapore police asked the public and visitors to “abide by our local laws” and warned that “action will be taken against anyone participating in a public assembly that is illegal”.
Confirming that Gotabaya has sent his resignation by email, a statement issued by the office of Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said: “The Speaker wishes to inform that an official statement on this would be made tomorrow (Friday) after the verification process and legal formalities.”
On the ground in Colombo, anti-Gotabaya protesters, who have been demanding his resignation and that of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who has begun officiating as the Acting President, began vacating the government buildings they had occupied after storming the heart of the Capital on July 9.
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Around 6 pm, protesters at the Prime Minister’s office on Flower Road trooped out of the white, two-storeyed mansion as security personnel of the Sri Lankan Air Force and Army regained charge of the building.
Seven hours earlier, the protesters had announced that they would peacefully withdraw from the President’s official residence, the Prime Minister’s official residence, Temple Trees, and the Prime Minister’s Office.
They, however, said that they would continue to occupy the front part of the Presidential Secretariat/ old Parliament and the Galle Face Green to continue the struggle called “Aragalya”.
The “GotaGoGama” protesters said they will not give up until their demands are met.
Around noon, curfew was reimposed in Colombo until Friday morning. The streets were quieter and attendance at protests sites was relatively thin. In the morning, protesters said this was also because it was a working day — unlike July 13, which was a public holiday.
The Lanka media, meanwhile, reported that Gotabaya’s brothers, former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and ex-finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, had informed the Supreme Court that they will not leave the country until a petition filed against them is heard on Friday.
When The Indian Express visited the PMO in the afternoon, shortly after the protesters had announced that they would vacate the premises, there were very few protesters on the premises.
At the entrance and at several places, there were signboards saying, “This is public property. We should protect it.”
Sanka Jayasekere, 28, a protester by day and a wealth plan manager in an insurance company by night, said, “We don’t need to capture the building… We have shown that people have the power to take charge of the building… It was a symbolic move. Now that the point has been made, we are going to vacate it by evening today.”
Wearing a black T-shirt, with a clenched fist logo and a slogan which said, “There is no victory without a battle”, Gehan Melroy, 30, a mechanical engineering graduate who was at the President’s residence a day earlier, said, “We are not terrorists… We want to show to the people that we are not here to damage the public property.”
Inside the building, a red-carpet curved staircase led to the first floor, which has the Prime Minister’s office. The leather chair and the large desk, with two Sri Lankan flags and the golden-plated national emblem, drew everyone’s attention.
Under the watchful eyes of three Sri Lankan military personnel standing in the room, the protesters took turns to enter the air-conditioned room, sit on the chair, take photographs and then exit.
A pamphlet of the protesters’ demands was on the Prime Minister’s table, and someone had scribbled on it: “Take note… (expletive) and do accordingly.” The demands include the resignation of the Prime Minister and President, along with Cabinet ministers and senior officials in the government.
At the other end of the room were 11 brown wooden chairs with beige upholstery, a brown wooden table with a glass top. One of the volunteers cleaned the chairs and arranged them — before returning the property to the government.
Buddhist batik paintings adorned the wall and a white almost-life size statue of Buddha sat at the other end of the room.
Niluka Nadisan, 25, a school teacher, one of the protesters, was making freshly-brewed coffee in the pantry. “We want zero harm and damage to these buildings… But we want to empower the people.”
From the balcony on the first floor, which overlooks the lawns, one could see Sri Lankan security personnel securing the perimeter of the building.