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Sri Lankan president flees to Maldives amid protests, Rajapaksa dominance ends – SABC News

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country to the Maldives on Wednesday, hours before he would step up amid widespread protests over his handling of a devastating economic crisis.

Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards left aboard a Sri Lankan air force plane, the air force said in a statement. A government source and a person near Rajapaksa said he was in Male, the capital of the Maldives.

The president would presumably go to another Asian country from there, the government source said.

The president’s flight brings an end to the rule of the powerful Rajapksa clan that has dominated politics in the South Asian nation for the past two decades.

Protests against the economic crisis have been raging for months and culminated last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people took over key government buildings in Colombo.

Critics blame the Rajapaksas and their allies for rising inflation, corruption and a severe shortage of fuel and medicine.

Rajapaksa would step down as president on Wednesday to make way for a unity government, after protesters stormed his and the prime minister’s official residence.

The president has not been seen in public since Friday. Sources close to Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament, said he had not yet received any communication from Rajapaksa.

The source near Rajapaksa said he would send a letter of resignation later on Wednesday. That would make Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe the acting president, even though he has also offered to run.

If he does, the speaker will be the acting president until a new president is elected, according to the constitution.

A statement from protest leaders, however, warned of a “decisive battle” if Wickremesinghe did not resign Wednesday afternoon.

Parliament will reconvene on Friday and will vote five days later to elect a new president, Abeywardena said earlier. Government sources and aides said the brothers of the president, former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa were still in Sri Lanka.

VICTIM OF PANDEMY

The island nation’s tourism – dependent economy was first hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic and then suffered a fall in transmissions from overseas Sri Lankans.

A ban on chemical fertilizers damaged farm production, although the ban was later reversed.

The Rajapaksas implemented in 2019 populist tax cuts affecting government finances, while shrinking foreign reserves restricted imports of fuel, food and medicine.

The gasoline is heavily rationed and long lines are formed for shops that sell cooking gas.

Headline inflation hit 54.6% last month and the central bank has warned it could rise to 70% in the coming months.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s older brother, resigned as prime minister in May after protests against the family became violent.

He went into hiding for several days at a military base in the east of the country before returning to Colombo.

In May, the Rajapaksa government appointed Mohammed Nasheed, the speaker of the Maldives parliament and a former president, to help coordinate foreign aid to SriLanka through crisis.

That same month, Nasheed publicly denied allegations that he helped Mahinda Rajapaksa secure a safe haven in the Maldives.

On Tuesday, immigration officials prevented Basil Rajapaksa from flying out of the country. It was not clear where Basil Rajapaksa, who also has US citizenship, was trying to go.

He resigned as finance minister in early April amid heavy street protests and left his seat in parliament in June.

Sri Lankan president flees to Maldives amid protests, Rajapaksa dominance ends – SABC News

Source link Sri Lankan president flees to Maldives amid protests, Rajapaksa dominance ends – SABC News

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