Sri Lanka crisis: Castled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flies to Maldives

As the acting President, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a nationwide state of emergency, hours after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country leading to more protests.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, July 13, 2022, 11:26 PM IST
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Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa | Photo: AFP

Sri Lanka's castled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on a military jet on Wednesday, hours before he was supposed to quit in the face of a public revolt against his government for mishandling the bankrupt economy.

From the Maldives, 73-year-old Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting President to discharge his duties while he is abroad.

However, Rajapaksa has informed the Speaker over telephone that he will resign on Wednesday as promised. He said the vote for the new president will take place on July 20.

Wickremesinghe, who is now acting President, has declared a state of emergency in the country and a curfew has been clamped in the western province as protesters gathered near his office at Flower Road in Colombo.

"I am now imposing a State of Emergency and a Curfew," he said in a special televised statement adding that threats by fascists must be countered.

He added that a committee comprising the heads of armed forces has been given the responsibility of enforcing the emergency and curfew to bring the situation to normalcy, but with zero political intervention.

He also pledged that he would step down as Prime Minister when an all-party government is formed.

He said he was alarmed at the information received from intelligence services. "Despite the President leaving, and measures taken to elect a new President, some groups organised to take over the Prime Minister's Office, and surround the Air Force Commander's residence for providing an Air Force plane for the President to fly to the Maldives. They had also decided to surround the Navy Commander's residence and Army Commander's residence. These groups tried to obtain control of the country,” he added.

He ordered the security forces to arrest people acting in a riotous manner.

Meanwhile, the protesters who had arrived in large numbers at the PM’s Office have surrounded the building. The police fired tear gas on protesters who broke through a barricade and stormed the office, calling for Wickremesinghe resignation.

Sri Lanka's state-owned television channel Rupavahini briefly suspended its telecast on Wednesday as protesters stormed the building. Later, the channel resumed its transmission.

Earlier, President Rajapaksa left the country along with his wife and two security officers on a military jet, a brief statement from the Sri Lanka Air Force said.

Rajapaksa, who enjoys immunity from prosecution while he is president, fled the country before resigning to avoid the possibility of arrest by the new government.

He was received by a Maldivian government representative at the Velana airport and taken to an undisclosed location under police escort, sources said, quoting Maldivian officials. The Maldives government has not yet officially commented on his presence in the island nation.

Rajapaksa's escape to the Maldives was negotiated by the Maldivian Majlis (Parliament) Speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed, sources in the Maldives capital Male said.

The Maldivian government's argument is that Rajapaksa is still the President of Sri Lanka, and that he hasn't resigned or handed over his powers to a successor. Therefore, if he wanted to travel to the Maldives, it could not have been denied, sources said.

Thirteen people accompanied Rajapaksa to the Maldives. They arrived in an AN32 aircraft, according to TV news channels.

Reports say that initial requests to land a military aircraft in the Maldives were refused by the Civil Aviation Authority, but later landing was authorised on the request of Speaker Nasheed.

President Rajapaksa is likely to leave for Singapore later Wednesday, the Daily Mirror reported, citing sources in Maldives.

He is likely to send his resignation letter only after reaching his final destination on Wednesday evening, Sri Lanka's The Morning news portal reported, citing highly placed government sources.

Meanwhile, the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka categorically denied "baseless and speculative" media reports that it facilitated the escape of Rajapaksa to the Maldives.

"It is reiterated that India will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka as they seek to realize their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values, established democratic institutions and constitutional framework,” the India mission tweeted.

Citing sources, BBC also reported that Rajapaksa's younger brother and former finance minister Basil has also left the country.

On Monday night, both Rajapaksa and his brother Basil were turned back at Colombo airport as they attempted to leave the country.

Sri Lanka's political parties have stepped up efforts to form an all-party government and subsequently elect a new President on July 20 to prevent the bankrupt nation sliding further into anarchy.

Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, if both the president and prime minister resign, the Speaker of parliament will serve as acting president for a maximum of 30 days.

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