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Sri Lanka’s acting president on July 17 declared a state of emergency across the crisis-hit island nation ahead of the parliamentary vote for a new president.

In the emergency proclamation, acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who previously served as the country’s prime minister, said an emergency declaration would be expedient “in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.”

Sri Lanka’s parliament is set to convene on July 20 to vote for a new president to replace former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence demanding his resignation.

Protesters storm in at the Sri Lankan president's official residence
Protesters storm into the Sri Lankan president’s official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 9, 2022. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo)

Rajapaksa reportedly fled to the Maldives on a military jet and then to Singapore before formally stepping down as president.

Anti-government protesters retreated from government buildings and waved national flags to celebrate his resignation.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters celebrate after entering the office building of Sri Lanka’s then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe amid the country’s economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 13, 2022. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Protesters also demanded that Wickremesinghe quit as prime minister and set his house on fire. He agreed to resign but eventually backtracked on the decision after Rajapaksa appointed him as acting president.

Parliamentary speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said he had received Rajapaksa’s resignation letter on July 15, after which Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the acting president, Colombo Page reported.

Rajapaksa Brothers Barred From Leaving Country

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court banned the former president’s brothers, Basil Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa, from leaving the country until July 28 after a petition was filed against them for the nation’s economic crisis, according to local reports.

Basil Rajapaksa, the former finance minister, attempted to flee Sri Lanka through the VIP terminal at Colombo International Airport but was stopped by immigration officials.

Sri Lanka’s former President
Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa waits to be sworn in as the prime minister at Kelaniya Royal Buddhist Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Aug. 9, 2020. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo)

Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister on May 9 after the prolonged protests turned deadly, and has since been hiding at a military base. His replacement, Wickremesinghe, was sworn in on May 12.

The Rajapaksa family has ruled Sri Lanka, a country with a population of 22 million, for two decades. Mahinda Rajapaksa served as president from 2005 to 2015 and was appointed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa as prime minister in 2019.

Ukraine War Exacerbates Sri Lanka’s Food Crisis

Speaking at a panel discussion on July 17, Wickremesinghe said the Russia–Ukraine war and the Western sanctions imposed against Russia had caused an increase in commodity prices, which cash-strapped Sri Lanka could no longer afford.

“A global crisis and an internal crisis both have come together and brought us to a level where many estimate that as much as 6 million people are facing malnutrition,” he was quoted as saying by Colombo Page.

Wickremesinghe said the Group of Seven nations and the World Bank have offered to provide Sri Lanka with $14 million in financial aid to purchase food and support the agriculture sector.

Ranil Wickremesinghe
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the then-newly appointed prime minister of Sri Lanka, arrives at a Buddhist temple after his swearing-in ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 12, 2022. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

However, the acting president pointed out that global hunger could worsen if the Russia–Ukraine war dragged on and said that imposing sanctions against Russia would just increase the burden on smaller nations.

“Sanctions won’t bring Russia to its knees, but it will bring the rest of the third world to its knees,” Wickremesinghe said, while calling on Russia to cease fire in Ukraine.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt for the first time in May 2022. The country has sought bailout packages from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and loan packages from its major lending partners, including Japan, China, and India.

Wickremesinghe declared Sri Lanka bankrupt on July 5 and said the government will need to submit its debt restructuring and sustainability plan to the IMF by August. The country has $51 billion in outstanding foreign debt, $6.5 billion of which is owed to China.

Aldgra Fredly

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Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, covering Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.

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