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The Sri Lankan President flees his country in a military plane

#Sri #Lankan #President #flees #country #military #plane

Sri Lanka’s embattled president fled his country early Wednesday, likely as a prelude to his resignation after months of widespread protests over the island nation’s worst economic crisis.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed over the weekend to resign on Wednesday, clearing the way for a “peaceful transfer of power” after he fled his official seat in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran him.

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

According to immigration sources, he, his wife and a bodyguard were among four passengers aboard an Antonov-32 military plane that took off from the main international airport bound for the neighboring Maldives.

“Their passports were stamped and they boarded the Air Force special flight,” an immigration official involved in the process told AFP.

The departure of the 73-year-old leader, once known as “The Terminator,” had been held up for more than 24 hours in a humiliating altercation with immigration staff at the airport.

He wanted to fly to Dubai on a commercial flight, but Bandaranaike International staff backed out of VIP service, insisting that all passengers go through public counters.

The presidential party was reluctant to go the regular route for fear of public backlash, a security official said, and as a result missed four flights on Monday that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

Clearance for a military flight to land in next-door neighbor India was not immediately secured, a security official said, and sometime Tuesday the group headed for a naval base to escape by sea.

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

Basil – who also holds US citizenship in addition to Sri Lankan nationality – attempted to use a paid concierge service for business travelers, but airport and immigration staff said they had pulled out of the fast-track service.

– unity government –

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

Official sources said that a suitcase full of documents along with Rs 17.85 million (approx.

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.

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.

If he 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.

But Wickremesinghe has himself announced his willingness to resign if consensus is reached on forming a unity government.

The follow-up process could last anywhere from three days – the minimum time for convening parliament – to a maximum of 30 days, which the law allows. Should Rajapaksa step down on Wednesday, the vote would take place on July 20, the parliament speaker said.

The leader of the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya, Sajith Premadasa, who lost the 2019 presidential election to Rajapaksa, has announced that he will run for office.

Premadasa is the son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated in a suicide attack by Tamil rebels in May 1993.

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 gasoline. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

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