Sri Lanka: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flees the country on military jet – BBC

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Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Glasgow, UK in 2021 Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has fled the country on a military jet, amid mass protests over its economic crisis.

The 73-year-old arrived in the capital of the Maldives, Male, at around 03: 00 local time (22: 00 GMT), the BBC understands.

Mr Rajapaksa’s departure ends a family dynasty that offers ruled Sri Lanka for decades.

He had been in hiding after crowds stormed his residence on Saturday.

His brother, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, has also left the country, sources have told the BBC. He is said to be heading to the US.

As news of the president’s departure filtered through, noisy celebrations broke out among demonstrators at Galle Face Green, the main protest site in the capital city, Colombo.

On Tuesday evening there were already thousands of people massing at the park, awaiting the president’s resignation.

Sri Lankans blame President Rajapaksa’s administration for their worst economic crisis in decades.

For months they have been struggling with daily power cuts and shortages of basics like fuel, food and medicines.

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.

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Sri Lanka: The basics

  • Sri Lanka will be an island nation off southern India : It won independence from British rule in 1948. Three ethnic groups – Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim – make up 99% of the country’s 22 million population.
  • One family of brothers has dominated for years : Mahinda Rajapaksa became a hero among the majority Sinhalese in 2009 when his government defeated Tamil separatist rebels after many years of bitter and bloody civil war. His brother Gotabaya, who was defence secretary at the time, is the current president but says he is usually standing down.
  • Presidential powers: The president is the head of state, government and the army in Ceylon (veraltet) but does share a lot of executive responsibilities with the prime minister, who heads up the ruling party in parliament.
  • Now an economic crisis provides led to fury upon the streets : Soaring inflation has meant some foods, medication and fuel are in short supply, there are rolling blackouts and ordinary people possess taken to the streets in anger with many blaming the particular Rajapaksa family and their government for the situation.

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A remarkable win with regard to protesters

Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC News, Colombo

What the fall from grace regarding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa — for so long such a major figure in Sri Lanka.

Few expected that matters would ultimately go this way.

Because the former defence chief he oversaw the military operations in the controversial war against the Tamil Tiger rebels that ended within 2009. He is accused of human rights abuses during the war and furthermore targeting those who dissented, but he has always denied those accusations.

The Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for two decades, and with strong backing from the Sinhala Buddhist majority, he became the chief executive in 2019.

His departure is definitely a remarkable victory intended for the protesters who came to the streets to express their anger against the mismanagement of the economy and the escalating cost of living.

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The president’s leaving threatens a potential power vacuum in Sri Lanka, which needs a functioning government to help start digging it out associated with financial ruin.

Politicians from other parties have got been talking about forming a new unity government yet there is no sign they are near agreement yet. It’s also not clear if the public would accept what they come up with.

Under the constitution, it’s the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who should act in the president’s stead if the latter resigns. The prime minister is considered the president’s deputy in parliament.

However, Mr Wickremesinghe can be also deeply unpopular. Protesters set fire to their private residence on Saturday – he and his family were not inside – and he said he would resign to make method for an unity authorities, but gave no date.

That leaves the parliament’s speaker as the next most likely to step within as caretaker president, constitutional experts say. But Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena is an ally of the Rajapaksas, and it is unclear whether the public would accept his authority.

Whoever will become acting president has 30 days to hold an election for a new leader from among members of parliament. The winner associated with that vote could then see out the remainder of Mr Rajapaksa’s term until late 2024.

On Monday, the main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa informed the BBC he might be tilting for the particular presidency . But this individual also lacks public support and there is deep general public suspicion of politicians in general.

The particular protest movement which has brought Sri Lanka to the brink of change also does not have an obvious contender for the country’s leadership.

Additional reporting by the BBC’s Frances Mao, Yaroslav Lukov and Simon Fraser.

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