Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was caught in a standoff on Tuesday with airport immigration staff who barred him from leaving the country.
Massive street protests spread across the country and thousands of anti-government protesters stormed and occupied the presidential palace on Saturday, demanding Mr Rajapaksa’s resignation in an unprecedented economic crisis that has resulted in extreme hardship. to ordinary citizens.
The government has insisted that 73-year-old Mr Rajapaksa, who for months has refused to resign “under any circumstances”, will officially resign from his post on Wednesday.
The president fled from his official residence before thousands of people rushed to his palace in Colombo.
Immigration officials at the airport refused to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport to allow him to fly to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), sources told AFP. The president refused to pass through public facilities for fear of backlash from other passengers.
Mr Rajapaksa and his wife allegedly spent the night at a military base overlooking Colombo’s main international airport after missing “four flights”.
Although his whereabouts have been kept secret, he is believed to be confined to a vessel in Sri Lankan waters.
His brother and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa was also banned from flying out of the country to Dubai on the same day after immigration staff refused quick service to him.
The 71-year-old also holds U.S. citizenship and resigned as finance minister in early April amid growing calls for the Rajapaksa clan to step down due to severe fuel shortages and other necessities. .
“Because of the unrest in Sri Lanka, immigration officials are under intense pressure not to allow high -ranking officials to leave the country,” KAS Kanugala, chairman of the Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers Association, told Reuters .
“We are concerned for our security. So until this issue was resolved, immigration officials working in the VIP lounge decided to withdraw their services.
Locals went on social media to express their anger after photos of Mr Rajapaksa in the lounge in an effort to leave the country were reported by local media.
The penniless island nation of 22 million has largely blamed the Rajapaksa family, including Mahinda Rajapaksa, who both served as president and prime minister, for the worst financial crisis since independence in 1948.
Six Rajapaksa serve in the cabinet and the departure of Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the post will mark a temporary end to the family rule in Sri Lanka.
Reports suggested that the president had already signed a resignation letter dated July 13, to be given to the parliament speaker on Wednesday. But protesters have vowed to remain at the president’s official residence until the resignation becomes official.
Over the weekend, protesters also set fire to the private residence of prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, forcing him to also offer his resignation.
Mr Wickremesinghe, a veteran politician who took over the position in May from Mahinda Rajapaksa, said he would step down when the opposition parties agreed to form a unity government.
Meanwhile, opposition leader and Samagi party leader Jana Balawegaya, Sajith Premadasa, has announced her intention to run for the president’s office.
Mr Premadasa told the BBC that his party and allies had agreed to advance “my nomination for the presidency, if there is a vacancy”.
Dullas Alahapperuma, a legislator and former minister, was reportedly nominated for the prime minister’s post. The Sri Lankan parliament will elect a new president on July 20 to form an all-party government.
Colombo is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $ 3bn (£ 2.5bn) bailout package to fix the “collapsed economy”.