Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left the country his family ruled for years early Wednesday mere hours before he was officially going to step down.
Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards departed the country on a Sri Lankan Air Force plane, an immigration official told Reuters with a government source telling the outlet he’d left for the capital of Maldives before going to another Asian country.
The ouster comes after thousands of angry protesters stormed his home and office over months-long economic devastation that has led to a severe food and fuel shortages.
The Rajapaksa family, including the president’s brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, dominated the country’s politics for years, but were largely blamed for the desperate conditions they found themselves in.
Rajapaksa’s promised departure hasn’t solved much with protesters vowing to occupy government buildings until all top leaders are ousted.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said he would step down once a new government is in place. The prime minister is supposed to assume the presidency until a replacement is selected.
People have flooded the presidential palace, swimming in its pool and lounging in beds piled with pillows. They also burned the prime minister’s private home.
Lawmakers said they would pick a new president next week, but were unsure what the new government would look like to resuscitate the bankrupt country.
Protesters were irate that Rajapaksa slipped out rather than face severe consequences.
“We expected him behind bars – not to escape to a tropical island! What kind of justice is that?” 28-year-old Sithara Sedaraliyanage said. “This is the first time people in Sri Lanka have risen like this against a president. We want some accountability.”
Demonstrator Malik D’ Silva, 25, said he wasn’t happy the president fled. He’s protested for the past 97 days and was occupying the president’s office.
“He should be in jail,” he said.
An immigration official said a sitting president can’t be stopped from leaving the country.
Corruption and mismanagement are to blame for the country’s fragile state with the island nation stuck with mountains of debt and unable to import everyday items. Sri Lankans are skipping meals and waiting in long lines to buy the little fuel in the country.
Rajapaksa’s family has denied corruption accusations but he admitted some policies he pushed led to the dire conditions.
Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May in the face of violent protests.
Another brother of the president, Basil Rajapaksa, a former finance minister, was blocked by immigration officials from leading the country. It’s unclear where he was headed. He left his post in April.
With Post wires