Immigration staff blocks Sri Lankan president’s exit for abroad

Sri Lanka

Immigration staff blocks Sri Lankan president's exit for abroad - foto grab)

Sri Lanka’s president facing widespread protests was stuck in his own country on Tuesday in a humiliating standoff with airport immigration staff blocking his exit to safety abroad, media reported quoting the official sources.

73-year-old Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to resign as president on Wednesday to make way for a unity government after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence on Saturday demanding his resignation over the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.

The Sri Lankan president fled his official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it on Saturday and wanted to travel to Dubai, foreign media reported.

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, as he was fearing reprisals from other airport users while going through the public facilities.

News agencies reported that the president and his wife spent the night at a military base next to the main 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, failed to leave for Dubai early Tuesday after a similar standoff with the airport staff.

“There were some other passengers who protested against Basil boarding their flight,” media reported.

Basil, a US dual citizen, had to obtain a new passport after leaving his behind at the presidential palace.

Hasty retreat

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.