New Delhi: Amid widespread protests over his handling of a devastating economic crisis and ahead of his expected resignation, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country early on Wednesday (July 13, 2022), media reports claimed. According to Reuters, Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards, left aboard a Sri Lankan Air Force plane for the city of Male, the capital of the Maldives. The president would most likely proceed to another Asian country from there, Reuters reported.
Rajapaksa, who has not been seen in public since Friday, was due to step down as president on Wednesday to make way for a unity government. He had taken the decision after thousands of protesters stormed his and the prime minister’s official residences on Saturday, demanding their ouster.
Parliament, notably, is scheduled to elect his replacement on July 20.
The Rajapaksa family, including former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, has dominated the politics of the country of 22 million for years and most Sri Lankans blame them for current problems.
The tourism-dependent economy has been hammered badly by the Covid-19 pandemic and a fall in remittances from overseas Sri Lankans. The Rajapaksas brought in populist tax cuts in 2019 that affected government finances while shrinking foreign reserves curtailed imports of fuel, food and medicines.
In the island country, petrol has been severely rationed and long lines have formed in front of shops selling cooking gas. Headline inflation hit 54.6% in June and the central bank has warned that it could rise to 70% in the coming months.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s elder brother, resigned as prime minister in May after protests against the family turned violent. He reportedly remained in hiding at a military base in the east of the country for some days before returning to Colombo.
Protests against the government have simmered since May but erupted afresh last Saturday when hundreds of thousands of people surged into Colombo and occupied key government buildings and residences.
Earlier on Tuesday, immigration officials prevented another of the president’s brothers, former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, from flying out of the country. He resigned as finance minister in early April amid heavy street protests against fuel and food shortages and quit his seat in parliament in June.
(With agency inputs)