Colombo (AFP) -
Sri Lanka's embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew out of the country early Wednesday heading to the neighbouring Maldives, local officials said.
The 73-year-old leader, his wife and a bodyguard were among four passengers on board an Antonov-32 Sri Lankan military aircraft which took off from Colombo's international airport, immigration officials told AFP.
'Their passports were stamped and they boarded the special air force flight,' an immigration official involved in the process said. There was no immediate confirmation Rajapaksa had reached the Maldives.
Airport officials said the aircraft was held up for over an hour on the tarmac without being able to take off following confusion over permission to land in the Maldives.
'There were some anxious moments, but in the end everything worked out OK,' an airport official said, asking not to be named.
'The aircraft is due to land at the Male international airport.'
Many of the president's entourage did not travel with him on board the aircraft, he added.
They had travelled to the airport with the President on Monday to board a flight to Dubai, but were turned back after a tense standoff over stamping their passports through a VIP service.
Rajapaksa had earlier promised to announce his resignation Wednesday, saying that he wants to allow a 'peaceful transition of power'.
He fled from his official residence in the capital on Saturday after tens of thousands of angry protesters stormed it, following months of demonstrations calling for his resignation over the country's worst-ever economic crisis.
He had wanted to travel abroad while he still enjoyed immunity from prosecution before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
His previous attempts to arrange a military flight to Sri Lanka's closest neighbour India failed as clearance for a military aircraft to land in a civilian airport was not given.