Airport authorities block ex-FM Basil Rajapaksa from leaving Sri Lanka
Former Finance Minister of Sri Lanka, Basil Rajapaksa, attempted to flee to Dubai in the early hours of Tuesday amid a wave of protests but was unsuccessful after the airport's immigration officials blocked him. At the Colombo international airport, Rajapaksa—the brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa—reportedly attempted to flee through the VIP terminal, but people at the airport recognized him and objected to his departure.
- Sri Lanka has been reeling under the worst economic situation since its independence, stemming from a foreign exchange crisis that led to shortages of essential supplies for the past several months.
- The new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over in May, also failed to bring the island country out of the crisis, despite promising to take some drastic steps to revive the economy.
The Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers Association told Reuters its members refused to serve Rajapaksa. "Given the unrest...immigration officials are under tremendous pressure to not allow top-level people to leave the country," the association's Chairman KAS Kanugala said. "We are concerned for our security. So until this issue is resolved, the immigration officials working at the VIP lounge decided to withdraw their services."
Widespread unverified images/videos on social media showed Rajapaksa in an airport lounge after midnight. His older brothers—Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa—are under security protection in Colombo. Gotabaya is set to resign from the president's post on Wednesday. The protesters have reportedly erected checkpoints across the country to ensure that none of the political leaders, particularly members of the Rajapaksa family, are permitted to escape.
As per Sri Lanka's Constitution, the incumbent prime minister would automatically become the acting president until Parliament votes to appoint the president's successor. But PM Ranil Wickremesinghe also offered to resign amid violent protests last week. So, if both Gotabaya and Wickremesinghe resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena would become the acting President. However, the latest reports suggest Wickremesinghe is eyeing the post of president.
The ongoing protests in Sri Lanka reached a peak last weekend when protesters stormed President Gotabaya's official residence. Following intelligence inputs, however, he was safely evacuated earlier. The latest reports say he was also barred from leaving the country—like his younger brother—following an embarrassing standoff with airport officials. As president, Gotabaya has immunity from arrest, so he reportedly wanted to flee before stepping down.
Shocking images of protesters exploring the president's official residence have been doing the rounds over the last few days. Reportedly, they discovered millions in cash and a secret bunker. Many have criticized the president and his family members—many of whom were part of the government—for living a lavish life while the country's people suffered from the economic crisis caused by his bad policy decisions.