Former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday returned to the country from Thailand, nearly two months after he fled the country following a massive uprising against his government over the island nation’s worst-ever economic crisis.
Rajapaksa, 73, fled the country on July 13 after months-long mass public demonstrations demanding his immediate resignation on July 9 gained momentum after protesters stormed the President’s House in Colombo and several other state buildings in the capital.
Rajapaksa arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport amidst a heavy security presence. After being received at the airport by several ministers and Parliamentarians of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, Rajapaksa left the airport in a heavily-guarded motorcade.
The ex-president returned to Sri Lanka on a Singapore Airlines flight. He travelled from Thailand to Singapore to take the flight as there are no direct flights between Bangkok and Colombo, sources said.
Rajapaksa will be living in a state bungalow close to Wijerama Mawatha in Colombo while a large security contingency will be appointed to maintain security in the area, Daily Mirror Lanka reported.
As a former president, Rajapaksa is entitled to a government house, security and other privileges.
Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka to the Maldives on a Sri Lanka Airforce plane and then proceeded to Singapore, from where he sent in his resignation on July 14.
Later, he flew to Thailand, seeking temporary shelter. Thailand had said that Rajapaksa can stay in the country for 90 days because he is still a diplomatic passport holder.
However, Rajapaksa was not allowed to engage in political activities in Thailand. He was confined to a hotel and surrounded by security personnel.
Local media reports on August 19 quoted Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam as saying that his party had requested the president to facilitate the former president's return and “ensure security and necessary facilities".
After Rajapaksa was ousted, Sri Lanka’s parliament elected then-Acting President and six-time former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new Head of State.
Wickremesinghe has a mandate to serve out the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.
Rajapaksa, an ex-military officer, became president in November 2019.
Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 which was triggered by a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves.
The IMF on Thursday announced that it will provide Sri Lanka with a loan of about $2.9 billion over four years under a preliminary agreement to help the bankrupt island nation tide over its worst economic crisis and protect the livelihoods of the people.