Tuesday, 16 August, 2022
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Gotabaya seeks seaborne escape after airport standoff

Gotabaya seeks seaborne escape after airport standoff

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's president was considering using a navy patrol craft to flee the island Tuesday following a humiliating standoff with airport immigration, official sources said, reports AFP.  

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has promised to resign on Wednesday and clear the way for a "peaceful transition of power" following widespread protests against him over the country's worst economic crisis.

The 73-year-old leader fled his official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it on Saturday. He then wanted to travel to Dubai, officials said.

As president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest, and he is believed to want to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.

But immigration officers refused to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport, while he insisted he would not go through the public facilities, fearing reprisals from other airport users.

The president and his wife spent the night at a military base next to the main Bandaranaike International airport after missing four flights that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

Rajapaksa's youngest brother Basil, who resigned in April as finance minister, missed his own Emirates flight to Dubai early Tuesday after a similar standoff with airport staff.

Basil -- who holds US citizenship in addition to Sri Lankan nationality -- tried to use a paid concierge service for business travellers, but airport and immigration staff said they were withdrawing from the fast track service with immediate effect.

"There were some other passengers who protested against Basil boarding their flight," an airport official told AFP. "It was a tense situation, so he hurriedly left the airport."

Basil had to obtain a new US passport after leaving his behind at the presidential palace when the Rajapaksas beat a hasty retreat to avoid mobs on Saturday, a diplomatic source said.

Official sources said a suitcase full of documents had also been left behind at the stately mansion along with 17.85 million rupees in cash, now in the custody of a Colombo court.

There was no official word from the president's office about his whereabouts, but he remained commander-in-chief of the armed forces with military resources at his disposal.