President Rajapaksa leaves Maldives for Singapore

- colombogazette.com

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has left the Maldives on a Saudi airlines flight bound for Singapore, sources have told the BBC.

The president had fled to the Maldives a day earlier amid mass protests over Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.

It is not clear if Mr Rajapaksa will stay in Singapore or whether he will use it as a layover destination.

He had previously pledged to resign by Wednesday, but has failed to submit a formal resignation so far.

The leader, who as president enjoys immunity from prosecution, is believed to have wanted to leave Sri Lanka before stepping down to avoid the possibility of arrest by an incoming administration.

It comes as acting president Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday imposed a curfew for a second day. His government ordered a curfew from noon (06:30 GMT) to 05:00 Friday to quell protests.

Mr Wickremesinghe was appointed acting president by President Rajapaksa after the latter fled on a military plane on Tuesday night – but the decision triggered further protests demanding the PM also resign.

One person died and 84 others were injured during Wednesday’s protests, which took place at key landmarks around the capital, Colombo, including the prime minister’s office.

Major demonstrations since April over the country’s economic crisis have escalated this past week, after protesters broke into the presidential palace on Saturday and set fire to the prime minister’s private home.

On Wednesday, police fired tear gas at protesters who attempted to break down the gates of the prime minister’s office in Colombo, before finally making their way in. They later headed for parliament but did not get in.

By Thursday, a spokesperson for the protesters said they would withdraw from official buildings. Protesters had handed back the president’s official residence to the authorities when the BBC visited. There were no protesters at parliament on Thursday afternoon, a BBC correspondent confirmed.

Sri Lanka has seen its economy collapse and the cost of food, fuel and other basic supplies skyrocket for ordinary people.

Many blame the Rajapaksa administration for mishandling the crisis and see Mr Wickremesinghe, who became prime minister in May, as part of the problem.

The president’s departure has created a threatening power vacuum in Sri Lanka, which needs a functioning government to help dig it out of financial ruin.

Politicians from other parties have been talking about forming a new unity government, but there is no sign they are near agreement yet. It’s also not clear whether the public will accept what they come up with.

Under the constitution, it’s the prime minister who should act in the president’s stead if the latter resigns – but the fact that Mr Rajapaksa has not done so yet has raised questions over the validity of the acting president’s hold on power. (Courtesy BBC)

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