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Protesters abandon seized palace with Sri Lanka in limbo



COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan protesters began to retreat from government buildings they seized and military troops reinforced security at the Parliament on Thursday, establishing a tenuous calm in a country in both economic meltdown and political limbo.

Embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled a day earlier under pressure from demonstrators furious over the island nation’s economic collapse. But he failed to resign as promised — and further angered the crowds by making his prime minister acting leader.

Protesters want both men out and a unity government in to address an economic calamity that has triggered widespread shortages of food, fuel and other necessities. But with a fractured opposition and confusion over who was in charge, a solution seemed no closer following Rajapaksa’s departure. Adding to the turmoil, the president left the Maldives for Singapore on Thursday, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful political family of siphoning money from government coffers for years and his administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied the corruption allegations, but Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the meltdown.

Months of protests reached a frenzied peak over the weekend when demonstrators stormed the president’s home and office and the official residence of the prime minister. On Wednesday, they seized the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

They initially vowed to hold these places until a new government was in place, but the movement appeared to shift tactics Thursday.

Protest leader Devinda Kodagode told The Associated Press they planned to vacate official buildings after the Parliament speaker said he was exploring legal options for the country given that Rajapaksa left without submitting his resignation letter as promised.

Protesters withdrew from the presidential residence, with some moving a red carpet they had rolled up back into place as they left. Some still milled outside the president’s office.

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