The Sri Lankan aviation service announced Wednesday that the country’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa had departed Sri Lanka aboard the AN-32 military plane bound for the Maldives. The 73-year-old leader who has announced his resignation has flown from Colombo International Airport with his wife and bodyguard.
According to sources from the airport, the president’s plane Sri Lanka he was held for more than an hour at the apron pending clearance to land in the Maldives. “There were tense moments, but in the end everything turned out fine,” one airport official said on condition of anonymity, adding that the plane was due to land at Male airport.
This was Rajapaksa’s second attempt to leave the country. On Tuesday, immigration officials humiliated him from the Colombo airport, and some of his advisers contemplated fleeing the president and his entourage aboard a patrol vessel.
The economic and political crisis in Sri Lanka
On Saturday, Rajapaksa had to escape from his residence from a crowd of demonstrators who stormed the presidential palace. It was then transported by a naval ship to the port of Trincomalee in the northeast of the country, and on Tuesday, by helicopter, flew to the Colombo airport.
If, as promised, Rejapaks resigns, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was also evacuated to safety on Saturday, will automatically become the interim president until the parliament elects a successor who will hold office until the end of the current term, i.e. November 2024.
The island of 22 million is suffering from a severe currency shortage that has restricted imports of fuel, food and drugs, plunging Sri Lanka into the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Inflation now it is almost 55 percent. The majority of the public blame President Rajapaksa, against whom peaceful demonstrations have taken place since March.
Main photo source: PAP / EPA / CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE