Airport staff refused to stamp the passport of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday, preventing the soon-to-be ex-president from leaving the country for Dubai, AFP reported. Driven from office by mass protests, Rajapaksa is reportedly looking for other means of escape.
Immigration officers refused to enter the VIP suite at Bandaranaike International Airport to stamp Rajapaksa’s passport for exit, AFP’s sources said. Declining to queue with the general public for fear of reprisals, Rajapaksa and his wife spent Monday night at a nearby military base after missing four flights to the United Arab Emirates.
A similar attempt at escape was made by Rajapaksa’s younger brother, Basil, who served as his older sibling’s finance minister until April. According to AFP’s sources, Basil Rajapaksa was prevented from using the airport’s fast-track boarding lane, and left the airport after passengers began protesting.
President Rajapaksa announced on Saturday that he would resign this Wednesday, and is immune from arrest until that point. He is believed to be fleeing to avoid the possibility of being detained once his resignation becomes effective. Officials said that he is considering taking a Sri Lankan Navy vessel to either India or the Maldives.
Rajapaksa’s resignation came after months of protests. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka has been driven to bankruptcy, defaulting on its foreign loan debts in May and introducing fuel rationing earlier this month. The economic turmoil has been blamed on a loss of tourism revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a climate-motivated ban on chemical fertilizers that halved the country’s agricultural output in a matter of months.
Rajapaksa’s government responded to rising costs by printing more money, further accelerating inflation. Concurrently, tax cuts deprived Sri Lanka of vital revenue needed to import food, fuel, and medicine.
As protesters forced their way into Rajapaksa’s presidential palace on Saturday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told opposition party leaders that he too would step down after just two months in office. According to Sri Lankan law, Wickremesinghe will automatically take over as president should Rajapaksa resign as planned on Wednesday, until parliament elects a replacement and an interim all-party government takes over until new elections are called.