Days after thousands of protestors stormed the Sri Lankan presidential palace, the country’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has attempted to flee. However, his efforts to secure a US visa and seek sanctuary in a host of other countries have so far been thwarted. The exact whereabouts of the Sri Lankan President are currently unknown.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has urged the country’s military to do ‘whatever it takes to restore order’ after protestors also stormed his offices. Sri Lankan forces are now using teargas to disperse crowds of protestors.
Mr Rajapaksa, who gave up his US citizenship to contest and win the 2019 Presidential election in Sri Lanka, had asked the US embassy in Colombo for a US visa for him to travel to California but was refused, a US diplomatic source has confirmed.
US family members
However, Rajapaksa’s son, daughter-in-law and grandchild remain US citizens and still live there.
Following his attempts to secure passage to the United States, President Rajapaksa was reminded by a diplomatic source that he could not be granted a US visitor visa unless under very exceptional circumstances – for example, the death of an immediate family member or urgent medical treatment that can only be provided in the US.
A US Embassy representative said: “It was made very clear to him that there will be no US visa for him. He could go there as a head of state without a visa, but the current circumstances are different.”
However, the US Embassy in Sri Lanka did support Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s youngest brother, helping him to secure a US passport immediately after he reported it missing just recently.
Basil Rajapaksa served as Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister before he resigned amid opposition over his financial handlings.
He reportedly left his passport behind after he and his brother, President Rajapaksa, fled the presidential palace shortly before it was overrun by protestors on July 9.
It had been reported that Basil Rajapaksa arrived at Bandaranaike airport, to leave Sri Lanka on the evening of July 11, but was forced to turn back.
It’s understood that he had arrived at the ‘Silk Route’ departure terminal, which is a special paid service of the Sri Lankan airport aviation authority dedicated to stamping passenger passports and collecting luggage on behalf of the passenger.
However, upon Basil Rajapaksa’s arrival, immigration officers took steps to withdraw from their duties. It’s understood that he has not been able to leave Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Immigration Officers’ Association
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Immigration Officers’ Association said in a statement that: “Considering the current situation in the country [Sri Lanka], we have decided to cease ‘Silk Road’ passenger clearance activities until further notice.”
Amid speculation surrounding the Sri Lankan President’s whereabouts, Sri Lankan Parliament speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, recently told the BBC that the President had ‘left for a nearby country’.
However, he later withdrew the statement, claiming he had made a ‘mistake’.
Rumors are now circulated that the President boarded a ship soon after protestors stormed his official residence, and remained in Sri Lankan waters. However, the rumors remain unsubstantiated.
Top aviation sources claim that attempts by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and 15 of his close family and aides, to leave Sri Lanka have failed due to procedural issues.
Mr Rajapaksa, who took refuge at the Trincomalee naval base after fleeing the presidential palace on July 9, flew back to Ratmalana airbase on July 11 in two Bell 412 helicopters.
He then met with service chiefs and moved to the Katunayake airbase in the evening, according to defence officials.
Traveling to Dubai
A representative from Sri Lanka’s aviation department recently confirmed that Mr Rajapaksa and his delegation were initially due to travel on Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL225 to Dubai.
However, immigration officers insisted that all members of the President’s close family and aides turn up at the immigration counter at Bandaranaike airport to get their passports stamped.
Police and airport security officials said: “Security considerations are preventing the President and his close family from appearing at the public immigration counters.”
Meanwhile, it’s understood that immigration officials in Sri Lanka have refused to work at the VIP or VVIP lounges at Bandaranaike airport since July 9.
According to airport sources, the presidential group later attempted to board Etihad flight EY267, but missed that flight due to ‘technical issues’ with immigration.
It has also been reported that the Indian government refused to allow a Sri Lankan air force AN32, carrying the President, to land at an Indian civilian airport.
According to a defence official, Mr Rajapaksa was forced to spend a night at the Katunayake base trying to figure out how to get out safely.
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