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Sri Lankan President finds himself in an airport patch situation while attempting to escape

#Sri #Lankan #President #finds #airport #patch #situation #attempting #escape

Sri Lanka’s embattled president was mired in a humiliating standoff in his own country on Tuesday, with airport immigration officials blocking his exit to safe abroad, official sources said on Tuesday.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has vowed to step down on Wednesday, paving the way for a “peaceful transfer of power” after widespread protests against him over the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.

The 73-year-old leader fled his official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran him on Saturday and intended to travel to Dubai, officials said.

As president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest and is believed to wish to go abroad to avoid possible imprisonment before resigning.

But immigration officers refused to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport while he insisted he would not go through the public facilities, fearing reprisals from other airport users.

The President and his wife spent the night at a military base next to the main international airport after missing four flights that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

Rajapaksa’s youngest brother Basil, who resigned as finance minister in April, missed his own Emirates flight to Dubai early Tuesday after a similar standoff with airport staff.

Basil attempted to use the paid concierge service for business travelers, but airport and immigration staff said they were withdrawing from fast-track service effective immediately.

“There were some other passengers who objected to Basil boarding their plane,” an airport official told AFP. “It was a tense situation, so he left the airport in a hurry.”

Basil, a dual US citizen, had to get a new passport after leaving his at the presidential palace as the Rajapaksas staged a hasty retreat to avoid mobs on Saturday, a diplomatic source said.

– Hasty Retreat –

Official sources said a suitcase full of documents along with Rs 17.85 million in cash were left at the stately mansion, which is now in the custody of a Colombo court.

There was no official information from the President’s Office as to his whereabouts, but he remained Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces with military resources at his disposal.

One option still open to him would be to take a naval ship to either India or the Maldives, a defense source said.

If Rajapaksa resigns as promised, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will automatically become Acting President until Parliament elects an MP for the Presidential term, which ends in November 2024.

Rajapaksa is accused of running the economy so badly that the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even its most important imports, causing dire hardships for the 22 million people.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF over a possible bailout.

The island has nearly depleted its already scarce supplies of petrol. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

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