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Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flees to Maldives as protests escalate

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flees to Maldives as protests escalate

Amid the widespread protests over the country's worst economic crisis, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew out of the country early Wednesday in a military plane heading to the neighbouring Maldives, news agency AFP reported, quoting local officials. News agencies confirmed that he landed in the Maldives.

As per reports, they were received by the Maldivian government representatives at the Velana airport in Male.

President Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards boarded a Male-bound military aircraft from Colombo international airport last night. Reports suggest that his younger brother and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa has also left the country.

Defence officials of the island nation have told NDTV that Mr Rajapaksa requested them for a plane last night and that they were "obligated" to provide him one.

On arrival in the Maldives, President Rajapaksa, his wife and bodyguards were driven to an undisclosed location under police escort, an airport official in Male said.

Meanwhile, Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka today refuted the reports which claimed that India helped President Rajapaksa and his brother Basil flee to the Maldives. "High Commission categorically denies baseless and speculative media reports that India facilitated the recent reported travel of @gotabayar @Realbrajapaksa out of Sri Lanka. It is reiterated that India will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka," it tweeted.

As president, Gotabaya 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.

He had promised to resign on Wednesday and clear the way for a "peaceful transition of power". Sri Lanka's political parties have stepped up efforts to form an all-party government and subsequently elect a new President on July 20.

Sri Lanka is in the throes of a massive economic crisis over the past few months, and the protests reached a climax this weekend when protesters barged into the official residences of the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has also announced that he will step down once an all-party government is ready to take over.

Sri Lanka has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people. The country defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a possible bailout.

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TAGS:Sri LankaMaldivesGotabaya Rajapaksa
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