Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed to step down on Wednesday the 13th and lead a “peaceful transition” after massive protests against his government over the country’s unprecedented crisis management.
Over the weekend, the 73-year-old president left his official residence in Colombo shortly before thousands of protesters occupied it.
According to official sources, the head of state and his wife spent the night before their planned trip to Dubai at a military base.
However at the airport, immigration officials refused to allow him to go to the VIP lounge to stamp his passport. Rajapaksa preferred to avoid the public terminal for fear of the reaction of the Sinhalese. Since he has not yet resigned, Rajapakse enjoys immunity from the presidency, which he can use to seek asylum abroad.
His brother Basil, who resigned as finance minister in April, was also unable to board the flight to Dubai.
“Some passengers protested Basil’s boarding,” an airport official told AFP. “It was a tense situation and he decided to leave the airport in a hurry,” he added.
Basil, a dual citizen, needed a new passport after the family was forced to leave before an angry mob invaded and left him at the presidential palace, a diplomatic source said.
According to official sources, a suitcase full of documents and 17.85 million rupees ($50,000) were found in the apartment and were handed over to the authorities.
The president’s office did not comment on his status, but Rajapaksa remains head of state, meaning he could return to the military. The prospect opens the way for him to use a military ship and travel to India or the Maldives, a Defense Ministry source said.
Another alternative is to charter a plane to transport him from the country’s second international airport, which opened in 2013 and is named after the president’s older brother, Mahinda.
This place is considered a white elephant, with no regular international flights and is the least used international airport in the world.
Rajapaksa has been accused of mismanaging the economy, which has plunged the country into chaos and deep crisis, with foreign exchange shortages making it impossible to finance imports of essential goods for a population of 22 million.
Sri Lanka announced a $51 billion debt freeze in April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure the loan.
In addition, the country’s fuel reserves are almost depleted and the government has ordered the closure of non-essential administrations and schools to reduce displacement.
If Rajapakse steps down as he has promised, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will replace him until parliament elects an interim president for the remainder of his term, which ends in November 2024.
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