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Lanka Crisis: Gotabaya Leaves for Singapore From Maldives; Protesters to Hand Back Buildings

PTI |
President Rajapaksa, who fled Colombo, has departed from the Maldives on Saudi Airline flight SV 788 to Singapore, sources said.
sri lanka crisis

Representational use only. Image Courtesy: Daily Jefferson County Union

Male/Colombo:  Sri Lanka's embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday left the Maldives for Singapore after fleeing his country amidst the worst economic and political crisis faced by the island nation in decades.

Rajapaksa has departed from the Maldives on Saudi Airline flight SV 788 to Singapore, sources said.

Rajapaksa, the 73-year-old leader who had promised to resign on Wednesday, appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting President hours after he fled the country, escalating the political crisis and triggering a fresh wave of protests.

Earlier, Rajapaksa, his wife Loma and their two security officers were expected to leave for Singapore on board SQ437 from Male on Wednesday night but did not board the aircraft due to security concerns, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported. 

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena  said that he is yet to receive the resignation letter from President Rajapaksa.

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

On Saturday after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence, blaming him for the unprecedented economic crisis that has brought the country to its knees, Rajapaksa announced that he will step down on Wednesday.

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. 

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last week said Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.

Last week, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka is now a bankrupt country.

Protesters to Hand back Iconic Buildings to Authorities

Sri Lanka's anti-government demonstrators on Thursday decided to vacate some of the iconic administrative buildings, including the President's House and the Prime Minister’s Office, they have been occupying since April 9 demanding president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation.

On July 9, protesters occupied President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's presidential palace and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's private house. The Prime Minister's Office was overrun on Wednesday.

 “We are peacefully withdrawing from all buildings except the old parliament (president’s office) and Galle Face (the continuous protest site). We will continue to remain in these places, we will continue to protest until we reach our goals," a spokesperson for the group told reporters.

The government building includes the President’s house, Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Protesters occupied the building demanding President Rajapaksa's resignation. However, the Prez on Wednesday fled to the Maldives on a military jet, hours before he was supposed to step down in the face of a public revolt against him and his family for mishandling the economy that has bankrupted the country.

Rajapaksa, the 73-year-old leader who had promised to resign on Wednesday, appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting President hours after he fled the country, escalating the political crisis and triggering a fresh wave of protests.

At least 84 people were hospitalised when protesters clashed with the security forces at the prime minister’s office and at the main access junction to Parliament since Wednesday afternoon after Rajapaksa fled the country.

The police fired tear gas and water cannons at the mob who were trying to break barriers and enter the restricted zone.

The police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa said protesters had grabbed a T56 firearm and 60 bullets from a Sri Lanka Army soldier. A police complaint had been lodged, the police said.

Protesters have been coming under pressure as the protests took a violent turn. The lawyers’ body had asked them to vacate the buildings.

The spokesperson said, "their campaign has always been peaceful. We tell those in power not to use this opportunity to threaten people and show your military power”.

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