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Colombo: The entire Sri Lankan Cabinet will resign and hand over their responsibilities to a new all-party interim government as soon as it is formed, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office said on Monday, as the bankrupt island nation grappled with political and economic crises.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced on Saturday that he will resign on Wednesday. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe also said that he will step down after a new government is formed.

Opposition parties on Sunday held talks and decided to form an all-party interim government after President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe agreed to resign.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s office said all members of the cabinet have agreed to hand over their responsibilities to a new all-party government as soon as it is formed.

“All the ministers who participated in the discussion were of the opinion that as soon as there is an agreement to form an all-party government, they are ready to hand over their responsibilities to that government, the Prime Minister’s office said.

This was following a discussion held on Monday with cabinet ministers, it said.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had held discussions with the ministers on Monday morning.

Party sources said that the issue of an all-party government would be discussed with the Speaker of Parliament later on Monday.

Five cabinet ministers have already announced their resignation.

Rajapaksa agreed to bow to the party leaders’ request to resign following the popular uprising on Saturday. The president’s whereabouts are not known yet.

Earlier, Wickremesinghe announced that president Rajapaksa had officially conveyed to him the decision to resign.

Later a release from the president’s office said that the presidential statements would only come from the office of the Speaker.

Attorney-at-law Rakitha Rajpakshe, the spokesman for Justice Minister Rohitha Rajapakshe, said the president has to accept the ministers’ resignations in order for them to be valid, and that the prime minister has no authority to accept ministerial resignations.

Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, if both the president and prime minister resign, the Speaker of parliament will serve as acting president for a maximum of 30 days.

The Parliament will elect a new president within 30 days from one of its members, who will hold the office for the remaining two years of the current term.

The cash-starved island nation witnessed a tumultuous day on Saturday when protesters broke into Rajapaksa’s official residence in Colombo. The protesters were seen in the bedrooms and splashing around in the swimming pool of the President’s House.

About 100,000 protesters amassed outside of the president’s official residence on Saturday, demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation. Video broadcast on Sri Lankan television and on social media showed protesters entering the President’s House – Rajapaksa’s office and residence in the commercial capital of Colombo – after breaking through security cordons placed by police.

Protesters did not spare Prime Minister Wickremesinghe despite his offer to resign and set on fire his private residence in an affluent neighbourhood in the capital.

Police on Sunday arrested three people for setting Wickremesinghe’s residence on fire, which caused extensive destruction of the property. More arrests are expected, police said.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in recent months, calling for the country’s leaders to resign over accusations of economic mismanagement.

Schools have been suspended and fuel has been limited to essential services. Patients are unable to travel to hospitals due to the fuel shortage and food prices are soaring.

Trains have reportedly reduced in frequency, forcing travellers to squeeze into compartments and even sit precariously on top of them as they commute to work.

In several major cities, including Colombo, hundreds are forced to stand in line for hours to buy fuel, sometimes clashing with police and the military as they wait.

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

Last week, the prime minister said Sri Lanka’s ongoing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund depended on finalising a debt restructuring plan with creditors by August.

“We are now participating in the negotiations as a bankrupt country,” Wickremesinghe said.

“Due to the state of bankruptcy our country is in, we have to submit a plan on our debt sustainability to them separately. Only when (the IMF) are satisfied with that plan can we reach an agreement,” he said.

Also read: US urges Sri Lankan political fraternity to work quickly to achieve economic stability


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