Sri Lankan president flees to Maldives amid economic crisis

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards left aboard a Sri Lankan Air Force plane



By Qadijah Irshad

Published: Wed 13 Jul 2022, 6:15 AM

Last updated: Wed 13 Jul 2022, 9:48 AM

Beleaguered Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives Wednesday morning, hours before he lost his presidential immunity by stepping down.

Rajapaksa and his wife landed in the Male airport on an AN32 troop transport plane from the Sri Lanka Air Force at 3am Wednesday, CNN reported.

Despite the initial refusal by air traffic control to allow the unauthorised plane’s landing, Speaker of Maldivian Parliament Majlis and former president Mohamed Nasheed intervened, allowing the Rajapksas safe entry, said local Maldivian media.

A video originating from the Maldives showed VIP vehicles exiting from the airport down the main road, Boduthakurufaanu Magu, just past 3am in Male.

The president, once a decorated war hero, has fallen from grace as Sri Lankans blame him and his family for the severe economic crisis that has gripped the debt-ridden nation. Angry protestors, who stormed the presidential residence and secretariat and set ablaze the prime minister’s private home on Saturday, have been demanding the president and his family, who have been ruling Sri Lanka for two decades, quit and be held accountable for charges of mass corruption.

The president and 15 members of his family were blocked four times from departing from Sri Lanka’s international airport on Monday after they refused to join a public immigration queue.

Angry passengers demanded immigration officials not check in the president to the UAE-bound Emirates flight.

“If you put him on that plane, we will hammer him once he’s inside,” one unidentified man shouted.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Immigration and Emigration Officers’ Association denied immigration officers stopped the president from leaving the country.

“Immigration and Emigration officials have no legal power to prevent the president, who is still officially in office, from leaving the country,” they said in a statement. However, airport sources said the Silk Route VIP lounge, where the president and his family were taking refuge, was shut down, and social media posts showed an anxious-looking president speaking to officials.

President Rajapaksa’s youngest brother, Basil Rajapaksa, the former economic minister, was also denied boarding a flight on Tuesday while immigration officers withdrew their services from the VIP lounge. Pictures widely shared on social media on his attempted departure drew angry comments from Sri Lankans.

However, Basil Rajapaksa, who also holds a United States citizenship, allegedly left for the US “to receive treatment”, said Sagara Kariyawasam, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the president’s party. The former finance minister, who resigned under pressure from the people, had departed Sri Lanka aboard flight EK649 early Wednesday morning en route to Dubai.

Embittered Sri Lankans have been ousting one Rajapaksa at a time in street protests since April, remonstrating against the shortages of fuel, food, medicine and other necessities.

The whereabouts of the president’s older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned as prime minister after protestors swarmed into his official residence in May, forcing him to quit, currently remains unknown.

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