Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flees country amid widespread protests

Sri Lanka’s beleaguered president flew out of his country early Wednesday, in a possible prelude to his resignation after months of widespread protests over the island nation. Worst economic crisis ever.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to resign on Wednesday and clear the way for a “peaceful transition of power” over the weekend, just before it was toppled by tens of thousands of protesters from his official residence in Colombo.

As president, Rajapaksa is exempt from arrest, and is believed to have wanted to go abroad before leaving office to avoid the prospect of being taken into custody.

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According to immigration sources, he, his wife and a bodyguard were among four passengers on board the Antonov-32 military plane that had left the main international airport for neighboring Maldives.

“Their passport was stamped and they boarded the special Air Force flight,” an immigration official involved in the process told AFP.

The departure of the 73-year-old leader, once known as ‘The Terminator’, was halted for more than 24 hours in a humiliating standoff with immigration personnel at the airport.

He wanted to fly to Dubai on a commercial flight, but Bandaranaike International’s staff withdrew from VIP services and insisted that all passengers must pass through public counters.

The presidential contingent was reluctant to go through regular channels, a security official said, and as a result on Monday missed four flights that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

A security official said clearance for a military flight to land in nearest neighbor India was not immediately safe, and at one point on Tuesday the group headed for a naval base with a view to fleeing the seas.

Rajapaksa’s youngest brother Basil, who resigned as finance minister in April, missed his Emirates flight to Dubai in the early hours of Tuesday because of his own tense standoff with airport staff.

Basil – who has US citizenship in addition to Sri Lankan nationality – tried to use a paid concierge service for business travelers, but airport and immigration staff said he had withdrawn from the fast-track service.

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