Rajapaksas ‘prevented from fleeing’ Sri Lanka as rule of political dynasty comes to an undignified end
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was caught in a standoff on Tuesday with airport immigration staff who prevented him from leaving the country.
Massive street protests spread across the country and thousands of anti-government protesters stormed and occupied the presidential palace on Saturday, demanding the resignation of Mr Rajapaksa due to an unprecedented economic crisis which has caused serious hardship for ordinary citizens.
The government has insisted that Mr Rajapaksa, 73, who for months has refused to resign “under any circumstances”, will formally step down from his post on Wednesday.
The president had fled his official residence before thousands of people stormed into his palace in Colombo.
Immigration officers at the airport refused to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport to allow him to fly to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), sources told AFP. The president had refused to cross public facilities fearing the reactions of other passengers.
Mr Rajapaksa and his wife reportedly spent the night at a military base overlooking Colombo’s main international airport after missing “four flights”.
Although his whereabouts have been kept secret, he is believed to be hiding on a navy ship in Sri Lankan waters.
His brother and former finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, was also banned from leaving the country for Dubai on the same day after immigration officials denied him expedited service.
The 71-year-old also holds US citizenship and had resigned as finance minister in early April amid growing calls for the Rajapaksa clan to step down due to severe shortages of fuel and other commodities first need.
“Given the unrest in Sri Lanka, immigration officials are under enormous pressure not to allow senior officials to leave the country,” KAS Kanugala, president of the Association of Immigration and emigration from Sri Lanka.
“We are worried about our safety. So until this issue is resolved, the immigration officers working at the VIP lounge have decided to withdraw their services.
Residents took to social media to express their anger after photos of Mr Rajapaksa in the living room attempting to leave the country were reported by local media.
The cash-strapped island nation of 22 million has largely blamed the Rajapaksa family, including Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has served as both president and prime minister, for the worst financial crisis since independence in 1948.
Six Rajapaksas served in the cabinet and Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s exit from office will mark the temporary end of the family’s rule in Sri Lanka.
Reports suggest the president has already signed a resignation letter dated July 13, which will be delivered to the speaker of parliament on Wednesday. But protesters have vowed to stay at the president’s official residence until the resignation becomes official.
Over the weekend, furious protesters also burned down Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence in Colombo, also forcing him to tender his resignation.
Mr Wickremesinghe, a veteran politician who succeeded Mahinda Rajapaksa in May, said he would step down once opposition parties agreed to form a unity government.
Meanwhile, opposition leader and Samagi Jana Balawegaya party leader Sajith Premadasa has expressed his intention to run for president.
Mr Premadasa told the BBC that his party and its allies had agreed to put forward “my nomination for president, should a vacancy arise”.
Dullas Alahapperuma, a lawmaker and former minister, has reportedly been nominated for the post of prime minister. The Sri Lankan parliament will elect a new speaker on July 20 to form a multiparty government.
Colombo is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $3bn (£2.5bn) rescue package to fix the ‘collapsed economy’.