Embattled Sri Lankan president leaves Maldives, en route to Singapore

FILE - Then Sri Lanka's newly elected president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, center, hands over oath taking documents to Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya as his wife Ayoma watches during his swearing in ceremony held on Nov. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

Multiple sources have reported that embattled Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has left Maldives, who arrived in secret early Wednesday morning after fleeing his own.

Whilst media outlets reported of President Rajapaksa’s impending departure from Maldives to Singapore yesterday – a motorcade comprising of approximately five vehicles was observed at Velana International Airport, in capital Male’ City, this afternoon. Journalists at the airport detailed witnessing Maldivian Parliament Member for Central Henveiru constituency, Ali Azim, enter and leave the airport’s VIP lounge during this period.

No Maldivian nor Sri Lankan authority had officially confirmed President Rajapaksa’s departure to Singapore.

Media giant, Associated Press citing a Maldivian government official who spoke to the media outlet on the condition of anonymity confirmed that President Rajapaksa boarded a flight of Saudi Arabian Airlines on Thursday, bound for Singapore. Associated Press said that the Sri Lankan president is set to transit at Singapore, before moving on to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan media outlet, Daily Mirror said that President Rajapaksa was escorted by security officers of the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).

Some media outlets have reported that President Rajapaksa left Maldives in a private jet. The medias stressed having learned of the private jet’s landing at Velana International Airport this morning.

Following foiled attempts to depart to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates - President Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka in the early hours of Wednesday, arriving in the neighboring Maldives, mere hours before he was due to step down from his post over the civilian uprising prompted by the island nation’s devastating economic crisis.

He was accompanied by his wife and two security personnel.

No Maldivian authorities have issued official statements regarding President Rajapaksa’s arrival in the country.

Sri Lankans residing at Maldives protested in capital Male’ City on Wednesday evening following reports of their president’s arrival.

Sri Lankan presidents are protected from arrest while in power, and it is likely Rajapaksa planned his escape while he still had constitutional immunity. He was scheduled to announce his official resignation on Wednesday evening.

The president’s departure followed months of demonstrations that culminated Saturday in protesters storming his home and office and the official residence of his prime minister. The protests have all but dismantled his family’s political dynasty, which ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

Civilian protestors accuse the president and his relatives of siphoning money from government coffers for years and Rajapaksa’s administration of hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. Although the family denies the corruption allegations, President Rajapaksa acknowledged some of his policies contributed to the turmoil.

President Rajapaksa named his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president in his absence, further incensing those who blame the government for the crisis.

As protestors continued to take to the streets of the capital Colombo, and official buildings including the presidential palace and prime minister’s office following President Rajapaksa’s departure – Wickremesinghe called a state of emergency across the country, also imposing a curfew across Colombo and the rest of the country's western province.