Sri Lanka leader flees to Singapore

Publicado: 14/07/2022

Colombo (AFP) -

Sri Lanka's president arrived in Singapore Thursday, as protestors who chased him from his residence demanded he keep his promise to step down over his country's worst-ever economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa landed in the city-state on board a Saudia airlines flight from the Maldives, which he had fled to early Wednesday.

As president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest, and he is believed to have wanted to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.

But there was still no announcement of his resignation, more than 36 hours after he left his country.

In Colombo, demonstrators left several of the emblematic state buildings they had overrun in recent days, after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe instructed security forces to restore order and declared a state of emergency.

'We are peacefully withdrawing from the Presidential Palace, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister's Office with immediate effect, but will continue our struggle,' a spokeswoman for the protesters said.

Witnesses saw dozens of activists leave Wickremesinghe's office as armed police and security forces moved in.

Armoured personnel carriers patrolled parts of the capital which was brought under a curfew.

Rajapaksa, his wife Ioma and two bodyguards were named on the passenger list of Saudia SV788 from Male to Singapore, seen by AFP.

He is expected to look to stay in Singapore for some time, according to Sri Lankan security sources, before potentially moving to the United Arab Emirates.

However, Singapore said Rajapaksa was on a private visit and would not be granted asylum.

Hundreds of thousands of people have visited his compound since it was opened to the public after he fled and his security guards backed down.

By Thursday afternoon, the gates were closed with armed guards placed in and outside.

Earlier in the day, business owner Gihan Martyn, 49, accused the president of 'playing for time'.

'He's a coward,' he said outside the president's palace. 'He ruined our country along with the Rajapaksa family. So we don't trust him at all. We need a new government.'

Police said a soldier and a constable were injured in overnight clashes with protesters outside the national parliament as security forces beat back an attempt on the legislature.

Protesters also left the studios of the main state television station after breaking in on Wednesday.

The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were admitted with injuries on Wednesday, with one man suffocating to death after being tear-gassed at the premier's office.

The military and the police were issued with fresh orders Thursday to firmly put down any violence, and warned troublemakers they were 'legitimately empowered to exercise their force'.

But student Chirath Chathuranga Jayalath, 26, said: 'You cannot stop this protest by killing people. They'll shoot our heads but we do this from our hearts.'

- Green light -

Rajapaksa is accused of mismanaging the economy to a point where the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people.

Security sources in Colombo said Rajapaksa's resignation letter had already been prepared.

'No sooner he gives the green light, the Speaker will issue it,' a source told AFP.

Maldivian media reported that he had spent the night at the Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi super luxury resort, contrasting the opulent accommodation with the plight of his compatriots -- four out of five Sri Lankans skipping meals because of the country's dire economic crisis.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.

The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol with the government ordering the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

Diplomatic sources said Rajapaksa's attempts to secure a visa to the United States had been turned down because he had renounced his US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.

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