State of emergency is declared in Sri Lanka after president flees

State of emergency is declared in Sri Lanka and curfews brought in after president flees with his family to the Maldives hours before he was due to step down over economic collapse

  • Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency as protests escalate
  • He has become acting president after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives, promising to resign
  • Rajapaksa, his wife and a bodyguard were among four passengers on board an Antonov-32 military aircraft which took off for the Maldives, immigration sources say, likely to avoid the possibility of being detained

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister has declared a state of emergency after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the nearby Maldives on Wednesday, leaving the island nation during its worst-ever economic crisis.

‘The prime minister as acting president has declared a state of emergency (countrywide) and imposed a curfew in the western province,’ the Prime Minister’s media secretary, Dinouk Colombage, told Reuters.

The curfew comes into effect immediately, said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is now acting president after Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew out of his country early Wednesday.

Rajapaksa had promised to resign and said he would clear the way for a ‘peaceful transition of power’, after fleeing his official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it.

It was a dramatic culmination of months of unrest in Sri Lanka with experts predicting more protests to rock the country in the coming months.

Protestors are also outside the Prime Minister’s office, demanding he resign, with police using teargas in retaliation.

The Sri Lankan has declared a state of emergency after the president fled his official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it

Sri Lankan protesters storm prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ‘s office, demanding he resign after president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled amid economic crisis

Police use teargas as Sri Lankan protesters storm the compound of prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ‘s office, demanding he resign after president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled amid economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka 

Security personnel push a man away as demonstrators gather outside the Prime Minister’s office. Ranil Wickremesinghe has enacted a curfew coming into effect immediately, he said

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.

A resignation would make him Sri Lanka’s shortest-lived directly elected president.

He, his wife and a bodyguard were among four passengers on board an Antonov-32 military aircraft which took off from the main international airport heading for the neighbouring Maldives, according to immigration sources.

‘Their passports were stamped and they boarded the special air force flight,’ an immigration official involved in the process said.

The departure of the 73-year-old leader once known as ‘The Terminator’ had been stymied for more than 24 hours in a humiliating stand-off with immigration personnel at the airport.

He had wanted to fly to Dubai on a commercial flight, but staff at Bandaranaike International withdrew from VIP services and insisted that all passengers had to go through public counters.

The presidential party were reluctant to go through regular channels fearing public reactions, a security official said, and as a result missed four flights on Monday that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa sings the national anthem of Sri Lanka during the country’s Independence Day celebration in Colombo, Sri Lanka, February 4, 2022

Clearance for a military flight to land in the closest neighbour India was not immediately secured, a security official said, and at one point on Tuesday the group headed to a naval base with a view to fleeing by sea.

Rajapaksa, a former solider and part of a clan of four brothers who have dominated the country’s politics in recent years, has denied allegations that at least 40,000 minority Tamil civilians were killed by troops under his command during the closing months of Sri Lanka’s civil war. 

Rajapaksa’s youngest brother Basil, who resigned in April as finance minister, missed his own Emirates flight to Dubai early Tuesday after a separate standoff with airport staff.

Basil – who holds US citizenship in addition to Sri Lankan nationality – tried to use a paid concierge service for business travellers, but airport and immigration staff said they had withdrawn from the fast track service.

Basil had to obtain a new US passport after leaving his behind at the presidential palace when the Rajapaksas beat a hasty retreat to avoid mobs on Saturday, a diplomatic source said.

Official sources said a suitcase full of documents had also been left behind at the stately mansion along with 17.85 million rupees (about £42,000) in cash, now in the custody of a Colombo court.

There was no official word from the president’s office about his whereabouts, but he remained commander-in-chief of the armed forces with military resources at his disposal.

Protesters occupy the lawn of the Presidential Secretariat on July 13, 2022 in Colombo. Official sources said a suitcase full of documents had also been left behind at the stately mansion along with 17.85 million rupees (about £42,000) in cash

People wait to enter the Presidential Secretariat as soldiers stand guard. The president had wanted to fly to Dubai on a commercial flight, but staff at Bandaranaike International withdrew from VIP services before he could leave

A man waves Sri Lanka’s national flag outside presidential secretariat in Colombo on July 13. If the president steps down as promised, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will automatically become acting president until parliament elects an MP to serve out the presidential term, which ends in November 2024

People crowd at presidential secretariat in Colombo on July 10, 2022, a day after it was overrun by protestors. The succession process could take between three days – the minimum time taken to convene parliament – and a maximum of 30 days allowed under the statute

If Rajapaksa does step down on Wednesday, the vote would take place on July 20, the parliamentary speaker has said

Sri Lanka army soldiers patrol near the official residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa three days after it was stormed by anti government protesters in Colombo

Demonstrators gather outside the office of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, amid the crisis. The leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, Sajith Premadasa, who lost the 2019 presidential election to Rajapaksa, has said he will stand to replace the president

Army soldiers stand guard during a protest by demonstrators outside the office of Sri Lanka’s prime minister. Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout

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 the 22 million people living in the country.

If he steps down as promised, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will automatically become acting president until parliament elects an MP to serve out the presidential term, which ends in November 2024.

But Wickremesinghe has himself announced his willingness to step down if consensus is reached on forming a unity government.

The succession process could take between three days – the minimum time taken to convene parliament – and a maximum of 30 days allowed under the statute.

If Rajapaksa does step down on Wednesday, the vote would take place on July 20, the parliamentary speaker has said.

The leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, Sajith Premadasa, who lost the 2019 presidential election to Rajapaksa, has said he will stand for the position.

Premadasa is the son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated in a Tamil rebel suicide bombing in May 1993.

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. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

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