Outgoing Sri Lankan president lands in Singapore after fleeing uprising

  • Rajapaksa arrives on a Saudi flight from the Maldives
  • Interim Caliph imposes curfew in Colombo
  • Protesters return the president and the prime minister’s residences
  • The president was deposed due to unrest due to the economic collapse

COLOMBO/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Outgoing Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa landed in Singapore on Thursday after fleeing mass protests over his country’s economic collapse, as troops patrolled the commercial capital Colombo to enforce a curfew.

Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives on Wednesday to escape a popular uprising over his family’s role in a stifling economic crisis, flew to Singapore on a Saudi flight, according to a person familiar with the situation.

A passenger on the plane, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that Rajapaksa was greeted by a group of security guards and he was seen leaving the airport’s VIP area in a convoy of black vehicles.

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Airline employees told Reuters the black-clad president flew into business class with his wife and two bodyguards, describing him as “calm” and “friendly”.

Singapore’s foreign ministry said Rajapaksa entered the country on a private visit and did not seek or be granted asylum.

Rajapaksa has yet to quit despite vowing to quit by Wednesday, which has sparked fresh uncertainty in crisis-ridden Sri Lanka.

His decision on Wednesday to appoint his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president sparked further protests, with protesters storming parliament and demanding that the prime minister’s office also resign. Read more

“We want Ranil to go home,” Malik Pereira, a 29-year-old rickshaw driver who took part in the Parliament protests, said on Thursday. “They sold the country, we want a good person to take over, until then we won’t stop.”

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Protests against the economic crisis have raged for months and culminated last weekend when hundreds of thousands of people took over government buildings in Colombo, blaming the powerful Rajapaksa family and their allies for hyperinflation, shortages of basic goods and corruption.

Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards fled the country on an air force plane early on Wednesday and headed to the Maldives.

Inside the president’s residence early Thursday morning, ordinary Sri Lankans wandered the halls, taking in the building’s vast art collection, luxury cars and swimming pool.

“The fighting is not over,” said Terrence Rodrigo, the 26-year-old student, who said he had been inside the compound since protesters took control of it on Saturday with the prime minister’s official residence.

“We have to make society better than this. The government does not solve people’s problems.”

However, the usual protest sites were calm and organizers handed over the residences of the president and prime minister to the government on Thursday evening.

“With the president out of the country… it has no symbolic value to keep the places that were seized,” Shamira Dadwaj, one of the organizers, told Reuters.

But Callum Amaratunga, another organizer, said a crackdown may be imminent after Wickremesinghe described some protesters as “fascists” in a speech the previous evening.

The government imposed a curfew in Colombo from noon (0630 GMT) on Thursday until early Friday morning in a bid to prevent further unrest. Local media showed armored vehicles headed by soldiers patrolling the city’s streets.

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The military said the forces were authorized to use force to protect people and public property.

1 dead, 84 injured in clashes

One person was killed and 84 others injured in clashes between riot police and protesters on Wednesday near Parliament and the Prime Minister’s office, as people demanded the ouster of both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe, police said.

The army said two soldiers were seriously wounded when protesters attacked them near Parliament on Wednesday evening and seized their weapons and stores.

Police said the man who died was a 26-year-old protester who surrendered after being shot near the prime minister’s office.

An aide to Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abhiwardena said Rajapaksa had repeatedly assured the Parliament Speaker that he would step down on Wednesday, but his resignation letter did not arrive until Thursday.

The parliament speaker’s office said in a statement that a session of parliament scheduled for Friday has been postponed and opposition leaders are scheduled to meet on Friday to determine the next course of action.

The aide, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the spokesman might seek advice from the attorney general on next steps if Rajapaksa’s resignation did not come by the end of Thursday.

Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, both brothers of the president, have told the Supreme Court through their lawyers that they will remain in the country until at least Friday.

They were responding to a Transparency International anti-corruption petition seeking action.”Against the people responsible for the current economic crisis“.

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Immigration officials had banned Basil Rajapaksa from traveling outside the country on Tuesday. Read more

Parliament is expected to name a new full-time president on July 20, and a senior ruling party source told Reuters that Wickremesinghe was the party’s first choice although no decision had been taken. The opposition’s choice is their main leader, Sajith Premadasa, son of a former president.

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Additional reporting by Lin Chen and Edgar Su in Singapore, Sudarshan Varadhan in New Delhi, and Waruna Karunatilak in Colombo. authored by Krishna in Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Heinrich

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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