Gotabaya flees to Maldives, protests in SL

Colombo, July 13 (FN Agency) Sri Lanka’s beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, forced to vacate his official residence when thousands of protesters occupied it on Saturday, flew out of the country in an air force jet to The Maldives, triggering fresh demonstrations in both countries. President Rajapaksa left Sri Lanka with his wife and two security guards before dawn on Wednesday and quickly reached Male, capital of the Indian Ocean atoll nation the Maldives, apparently with a view to proceed to an undisclosed destination later. The dramatic flight took place a day after Sri Lankan immigration reportedly refused to let the President and his brother and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa to leave the country through the main airport. Military sources had on Tuesday indicated that President Rajapaksa, whose policies have been widely blamed for impoverishing Sri Lanka, could leave for the Maldives or India before he resigns formally on Wednesday as promised earlier.

The President reportedly wanted to be out of Sri Lanka before he quits so that he doesn’t get detained. The Indian High Commission here on Wednesday denied as “baseless” reports that it helped President Rajapaksa to leave for the Maldives and reiterated its support to the people of Sri Lanka “as they seek to realize their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values”.Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, acting in place of the President, meanwhile ordered emergency measures across Sri Lanka, a curfew in the Western Province that includes Colombo, and told security forces to act against rioters. Asked how the Prime Minister could announce these sweeping measures in the absence of presidential powers, a spokesman said: “The legal explanation will follow. We first want to bring the situation under control.” After Rajapaksa’s flight became known, street protests erupted outside the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s official residence here, forcing the police to fire tear gas.

The protesters want the Prime Minister also to quit.Scores of Sri Lankan expatriates as well as Maldivians also took to the streets in Male demanding that Rajapaksa be sent back to Colombo. Helicopters, apparently belonging to the Sri Lankan military, began hovering over the protest sites in Colombo but there was no official explanation to the development. Four persons were hospitalized with cut injuries following a clash at the main protest site at Galle Face Green, the Colombo promenade, early on Wednesday. Hospital sources said the injured were aged between 17 and 20 years. At least 10 persons who were occupying Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s official residence, were injured in a clash on Tuesday. Thousands of Sri Lankans are still occupying the President’s House, the Presidential Secretariat and Temple Trees since they stormed these buildings on July 9 in a mass uprising which finally ended the long-term rule of the country by the Rajapaksa family.