The president’s ouster came after months of protests and political missteps.


Sri Lanka, an island nation of 22 million people, was once held up as an economic success story, with a rising middle class and one of the highest median incomes in South Asia. But the country is now essentially out of money, and many people are living on the edge, a result of poor political decisions, reckless spending and economic mismanagement.

As food and fuel have run low in recent months, a swelling protest movement has pushed for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other politicians tied to his family’s political dynasty. The situation came to a head this weekend when protesters breached the president’s residence.

Here’s how this crisis has developed:

  • The country is hit by a series of economic headwinds in early 2020, including the pandemic, which all but destroyed the tourism industry.

  • Officials ban fertilizers the next year, battering harvests and leading to fears of food shortages. While the misguided policy is lifted after seven months, the damage is already done.

  • The central bank prints rupees and hoards dollars, sending inflation to a record high. The finance minister begs neighbors for credit lines to buy diesel fuel and milk powder. The government rations power.

  • As the country starts running out of foreign currency, supplies of food, fuel and other supplies dwindle, bringing protesters to the street. As protests demanding that the family dynasty leave government intensify, Mr. Rajapaksa empties his cabinet of family members. In May, the prime minister is forced out.

  • The situation gets increasingly desperate. China — which in past years has bankrolled many of Sri Lanka’s major infrastructure projects with loans — keeps its distance. India, a longtime patron, has already provided $4 billion in credit and loans, which Sri Lanka has burned through. Sri Lanka asks President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for a credit line to buy fuel.

  • On Saturday, protesters take over the president’s residence in Colombo, as Mr. Rajapaksa goes into hiding. The atmosphere in the capital turns festive. The speaker of Parliament says the president has agreed to resign, as has the prime minister.

  • The president flees the country on Wednesday. With the leadership of the nation uncertain, protesters surrounded the prime minister’s residence in Colombo, where they are met with tear gas. The prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, claims power and vows to retake government buildings overrun by protesters.

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