President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka early on Wednesday fled the country to the Maldives, amid popular mass protests over the island’s economic crisis.
The 73-year-old who had been in hiding after crowds stormed his residence on Saturday, escaped with his wife and two security officials on a military jet from the main international airport near Colombo, the country’s air force confirmed.
His departure is bringing to an apparent end his family’s near two-decade dominance of the country.
It is also a remarkable victory for the protesters who came to the streets to express their anger against the mismanagement of the economy and the escalating cost of living.
Rajapaksa had pledged to resign on Wednesday, July 13 parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana said in a televised statement after the president’s official residence in Colombo on Saturday was stormed by jubilant demonstrators’ footage showed jumping in the pool and exploring its stately bedrooms.
The leader, who enjoys immunity from prosecution while he is president, is believed to have wanted to flee abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of arrest by the new administration.
The crisis in the country began on April 1 when Rajapaksa declared a temporary state of emergency and gave security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects, after a spate of protests over soaring inflation.
The short supply of some foods, medication, fuel and essential supplies was blamed on the chronic mismanagement of the country’s finances by the Rajapaksa family and their government by angry protesters.
The South Asian country of 22 million people is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
Days later, almost all of Sri Lanka’s cabinet resigned at a late-night meeting and the governor of the central bank resigned having resisted calls to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announces his resignation a day later.
The embattled leader lifted the state of emergency after he lost his parliamentary majority.
On April 12, the government announced it was defaulting on its foreign debt of $51bn as a “last resort” after running out of foreign exchange to import desperately needed goods.
Five days later, the IMF said it had asked Sri Lanka to restructure its colossal external debt before a rescue package can be agreed upon.
The government announced on June 27 that Sri Lanka was nearly out of fuel and halted all petrol sales except for essential services.
On July 1, the government published data showing inflation had hit a record high for the ninth consecutive month, a day after the IMF asks Sri Lanka to rein in prices.
Some Maldivians are displeased over their government’s decision to let Rajapaksa into the country.
Some, however, praised the government’s decision, noting that Sri Lanka has given sanctuary to many Maldivians who have fled the country for fear of persecution during turbulent periods in the island nation’s history.
Sources close to Rajapaksa said he was in Male, the capital of the Maldives, adding that the president would most likely proceed to another Asian country from there.