Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, demanding Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s immediate resignation as news emerged that he has fled to the Maldives. Security forces were seen using teargas shells and water cannons to disperse the crowd when they tried to enter Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s home.
The anti-government protesters told NDTV that they will march to Parliament and will continue their agitation until the President steps down. They have also demanded the Prime Minister’s resignation.
President Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards boarded a Male-bound military aircraft from Colombo international airport last night. Reports claim that his younger brother and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa has also left the country.
Defence officials of the island nation have told NDTV that Mr Rajapaksa requested them for a plane last night and that they were “obligated” to provide him one. As President, Mr Rajapaksa continues to be the supreme commander of the defence forces.
On their arrival in the Maldives, President Rajapaksa, his wife and bodyguards were driven to an undisclosed location under police escort, an airport official in Male said.
The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka today dismissed reports claiming that India had helped President Rajapaksa and his brother Basil flee. “High Commission categorically denies baseless and speculative media reports that India facilitated the recent reported travel of @gotabayar @Realbrajapaksa out of Sri Lanka. It is reiterated that India will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka,” it tweeted.
As president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest. It is believed that he wanted to leave the country before resigning to avoid the possibility of being detained.
He had promised to resign on Wednesday and clear the way for a “peaceful transition of power”. Sri Lanka’s political parties have stepped up efforts to form an all-party government and elect a new President on July 20. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has announced that he will step down once an all-party government is ready to take over.
Earlier, both Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa failed to leave the country as immigration officials did not clear their journey and other fliers protested. Anti-government protesters blame the Rajapaksas for mishandling the island’s economy.Sri Lanka is in the throes of a massive economic crisis over the past few months, and the protests reached a climax this weekend when protesters barged into the official residences of the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.