Katunayake Airport Staff Block Gotabaya Rajapaksa from Entering VIP area to Stamp his Passport and Leave for Dubai:Basil Rajapaksa prevented from boarding a flight to the US via Dubai after other passengers protest


Hanna Ellis-Petersen

The Sri Lankan president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has made a failed attempt to flee the country as airport staff stood in his way and forced him to beat a humiliating retreat.

Rajapaksa, who is due to officially resign on Wednesday after months of demonstrations calling for him to step down, was reportedly trying to escape to Dubai on Monday night.
Officials said immigration staff prevented the president from going to the VIP area of the airport to stamp his passport and he would not go through the ordinary queues for fear of being mobbed by the public.

As a result, Rajapaksa reportedly missed four flights to the United Arab Emirates, and he, his wife and a dozen other family members and close aides spent the night at a nearby military base.

It appears that the president has attempted to follow several avenues of escape in recent days but all have proved futile. The Indian government reportedly refused permission for a Sri Lankan military plane carrying the president to land at an Indian civilian airport, while the US embassy refused to grant him a visitor visa, according to US embassy sources who spoke to local media.

Rajapaksa, who lived in the US for years and has a son and grandchild there, gave up his dual US citizenship in order to run for president, which means he is now ineligible for a visitor visa.
According to officials who spoke to Agence France-Presse, Rajapaksa was now considering using a navy patrol craft to try to flee the island, to either the Maldives or India and then on to Dubai, and he and his entourage had left the military base in two helicopters on Tuesday and headed to the port of Trincomalee.

While he is still president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest. It is believed he wants to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained. He is accused of overseeing corruption and economic mismanagement that have bankrupted the country and triggered the worst financial crisis on record.
He has also been accused of war crimes, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, during his time as defence minister, when he brought the civil war, fought against the Tamil minority, to a bloody end in 2009. For more than a decade the allegations against him have been prevented from reaching the courts.

The president was not the only member of the family unsuccessfully trying to flee. His younger brother Basil Rajapaksa, who served as finance minister and has also been accused of widespread corruption, was prevented from boarding a flight to the US via Dubai on Tuesday morning after other passengers protested.
Airport staff refused to let him use the fast-track concierge service and stopped him getting on the flight. According to airport officials, as the situation grew tense, Basil Rajapaksa, who has dual US citizenship, retreated.

After news of the Rajapaksa family’s attempts to flee emerged on Tuesday, a motion was filed to the supreme court seeking an order to prohibit Basil Rajapaksa, his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was forced to resign as prime minister in May, the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and several others who served in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s regime from being allowed to leave the country
Gotabaya Rajapaksa had pushed back against public pressure for him to resign for months, but on Saturday after hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Colombo and then took over his presidential palace and offices, he had little choice but to announce that he would step down.

His resignation was conveyed first through the speaker of parliament, then the office of the prime minister, but no public address has been made by the president.
An interim all-party unity government is expected to take over after Rajapaksa’s resignation, when the cabinet have said they will all resign. Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the largest opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya, who lost the presidential election against Rajapaksa in 2019, has said he will put himself forward for president.

Sri Lanka’s parliament will reconvene on Friday and a new president will be elected by MPs on 20 July. The caretaker government is expected to rule for six to eight months until the country can afford to hold parliamentary elections.

Courtesy:The Guardian