Sri Lanka: President Rajapaksa takes refuge on the grounds of the airport

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Sri Lanka: President Rajapaksa takes refuge on airport grounds

< p class="sc-v64krj-0 knjbxw">A crowd rushes to visit the official residence of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo, after it was overrun by anti-government protesters.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was moved to an airbase near the international airport on Monday, officials said, fueling speculation that he fled overseas. p>

After fleeing the presidential palace besieged by protesters on Saturday, Mr. Rajapaksa found refuge in navy facilities before being taken to Katunayake Air Force Base, which is is within the same perimeter as the country's main airport, Bandaranaike, a senior defense official told AFP.

The office of the presidency did not communicate Monday on the situation of the head of state, but several local media advanced that he would prepare to leave for Dubai.

Four commercial flights to the Middle East, however, took off without him, airport officials said.

Immigration officers refused to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport, while Mr Rajapaksa refused to pass through public areas, they added, a humiliating situation for the once nicknamed Terminator.

According to a military source, he remains the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and still has the possibility of traveling in an air force plane .

The 73-year-old leader escaped through a backdoor of his palace on Saturday. Protesters, who have been occupying the building since Saturday, discovered 17.85 million rupees ($64,000) in new banknotes, which they handed over to the police.

The cash was picked up by police and will be presented in court today, a police spokesman said Monday.

According to official sources, a suitcase full of documents was also found in the residence.

Sri Lanka's colonial-era presidential palace has embodied state authority for over 200 years.

M. Rajapaksa had moved into this building after being chased from his private residence on March 31 by protesters who attempted to storm it.

The president announced he would step down on Wednesday to allow for a peaceful transition. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assured Monday that Mr. Rajapaksa had officially notified him of his intention.

The 73-year-old head of government should then automatically become the interim president, but Mr. Wickremesinghe has made it known that he wishes to step down due to lack of consensus to form a unity government.

Mr. Wickremesinghe, an opposition MP, was appointed Prime Minister in May in order to bring the country out of the economic and political crisis.

The process for the succession must last between three days, the minimum time to convene Parliament, and 30 days, the maximum authorized by the texts.

The main opposition party, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) , was in talks on Monday with smaller political parties to gain support for their leader Sajith Premadasa, who lost the 2019 election.

According to an SJB official, a tentative deal has already been reached with Mr. Rajapaksa's SLPP dissidents to back Mr. Premadasa, 55, the son of a former president, for the top job.

< p class="e-p">The post of Prime Minister would then go to a member of the SLPP. Former loyalist of Mr. Rajapaksa, Dullas Alahapperuma, 63, could thus take the head of the government, told AFP an MP from the SJB involved in the talks.

Five ministers resigned over the weekend and the Prime Minister's Office said the government had agreed on Monday to resign en bloc if a multi-party government is agreed. /p>

On Monday, a huge queue formed to visit the presidential palace, where there were still thousands of protesters who announced that they would not leave the premises before the effective resignation of the president.

“The demand is very clear: people are still asking for the resignation (of Mr. Rajapaksa), the full resignation, in a confirmation in writing. I hope we will have the resignation of the government, including the Prime Minister and the President, in the days to come. »

— Dela Peiris, one of the protesters

Mr. Rajapaksa is accused of plunging the country into an unprecedented economic crisis, ruining it and leaving it without foreign currency to finance essential imports for this population of 22 million.

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Colombo defaulted on its C$66 billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.

The Sri Lanka has almost exhausted its gasoline reserves. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools, to reduce travel and save fuel.

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