Sri Lanka Ex-leader Rajapaksa Leaves Singapore

Sri Lanka gotabaya rajapaksa

 

 

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left Singapore Thursday, the city-state’s immigration office said, after his social visit pass expired.

“The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) confirms that Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa left Singapore on 11 August 2022,” the office said in reply to an AFP query.

It did not say where the former leader was headed to but the Thai foreign ministry, as well as a source in Colombo, said Wednesday he was seeking a new safe haven in Thailand.

Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on July 13 and then to Singapore, where he announced his resignation after months of protests over Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown.

Tens of thousands of people overran his official residence last month over acute shortages of food, fuel and medicine endured by Sri Lanka’s 22 million people since late last year.

“His Singapore visa runs out on Thursday,” a close associate of Rajapaksa told AFP in Colombo.

“He had applied for an extension, but it had not come through as of Wednesday morning.”

The source said Rajapaksa now planned to go to Thailand for a short stay and return to Singapore.

The Thai foreign ministry confirmed it had received a request from Colombo for the 73-year-old deposed leader to visit Thailand and an assurance that he would not seek political asylum there.

“The Thai side received a request for the former president to enter Thailand from the current government of Sri Lanka,” ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said in a statement.

“The stay is temporary in nature with the aim of onward travel. No political asylum has been sought.”

Sri Lankans arriving in Singapore get a 30-day visa, but Singapore authorities said they had initially given Rajapaksa only two weeks and later extended the visa by another two weeks.

The Rajapaksa confidant told AFP that he was keen to return home as protests against his administration had fizzled out, but his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe had advised him against an early return.

-AFP

Singapore Asked To Indict Sri Lanka’s Exiled Leader

Sri Lanka gotabaya rajapaksa

 

An international human rights group has formally asked Singapore to indict Sri Lanka’s deposed president Gotabaya Rajapaksa for crimes against humanity during his country’s decades-long civil war, officials said Monday.

Rajapaksa fled his country earlier this month after his official residence was stormed by tens of thousands of protesters infuriated by the island nation’s painful economic crisis.

He later escaped to the Maldives in a military plane and travelled on to Singapore, from where he tendered his resignation.

Rajapaksa helmed Sri Lanka’s defence ministry while his brother Mahinda was president and was in charge when the country’s brutal Tamil separatist conflict came to a bloody end in 2009.

Rights groups accused government forces of killing 40,000 Tamil civilians in a no-holds-barred offensive during the war’s final weeks.

The South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project said it had urged Singapore to exercise its universal jurisdiction to arrest the former president for grave breaches of international humanitarian law.

“These include murder, execution, torture and inhuman treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, deprivation of liberty, severe bodily and mental harm, and starvation,” according to the 63-page complaint.

Singapore’s Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) confirmed Monday it had received a complaint from the group on the weekend, without giving further details.

The once powerful Rajapaksa clan has long maintained that no civilians were killed in crushing a Tamil Tigers separatist movement, resisting repeated international calls for an independent investigation.

Soon after coming to power in November 2019, Rajapaksa, a retired army lieutenant colonel, granted a pardon and freed an army sergeant on death row for the murder of eight Tamils, including three children.

Last year, Rajapaksa granted an amnesty to his close associate Duminda Silva, another convicted murderer who was on death row for killing a former lawmaker and four others.

Sri Lanka does not carry out the death penalty in practice and the convicts were serving life sentences when the ex-president freed them, despite local and international condemnation.

Rajapaksa has also been accused of leading death squads, but he denied abducting dissidents and journalists and killing them when he served as defence secretary between 2005 and 2015.

Two cases against him in a California court were frozen in 2019 after he became president and acquired sovereign immunity.

One was filed by 11 people who survived torture while the other was by the daughter of a prominent anti-establishment editor allegedly killed at Rajapaksa’s behest.

-AFP

Sri Lanka Declares State Of Emergency As President Flees To Maldives

A man waves Sri Lanka’s national flag outside the presidential secretariat in Colombo on July 13, 2022. Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP

 

Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency Wednesday as thousands of people mobbed the prime minister’s office after the country’s president flew to the Maldives, following months of widespread protests against an economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had promised at the weekend to resign on Wednesday and clear the way for a “peaceful transition of power” after fleeing his official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it.

As president, 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, his wife, and two bodyguards were the four passengers on board an Antonov-32 military aircraft that took off from Sri Lanka’s main international airport, immigration sources told AFP.

Hours later, with no formal announcement he was stepping down, thousands of demonstrators mobbed the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe — who would automatically become acting president in the event of a resignation — demanding both officeholders should go.

“Go home Ranil, Go home Gota,” they shouted.

Police fired tear gas to hold them back from overrunning the compound and officials declared a nationwide state of emergency “to deal with the situation in the country”, the prime minister’s spokesman Dinouk Colombage told AFP.

Police imposed an indefinite curfew across the Western Province, which includes Colombo, “to contain the situation”, a senior police officer said.

Wickremesinghe has himself announced his willingness to resign if consensus is reached on forming a unity government.

His office confirmed Wednesday that Rajapaksa had left the country, but said it had no schedule for any resignation announcement.

The presidential succession process could take between three days — the minimum time needed for parliament to elect an MP to serve out Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024 — and a maximum of 30 days allowed under the statute.

A Complicated Exit

Rajapaksa is accused of mismanaging the economy to a point where the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people.

Earlier Wednesday, smiling Sri Lankans again thronged the corridors of the president’s official residence after his departure, with young couples walking around hand in hand in a mood of quiet celebration.

In this file photo taken on November 17, 2019, Sri Lanka's President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa waves to supporters as he leaves the election commission office in Colombo. Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 17, 2019, Sri Lanka’s President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa waves to supporters as he leaves the election commission office in Colombo. Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

“People are very happy because these people robbed our country,” said retired civil servant Kingsley Samarakoon, 74. “They’ve stolen too much money, billions and billions.”

But he held little hope for an immediate improvement in Sri Lanka’s plight. “How are people going to run the country without money?” he asked. “It’s a problem.”

The departure of Rajapaksa, 73 and once known as “The Terminator”, had been stymied for more than 24 hours in a humiliating stand-off with immigration personnel in Colombo.

He had wanted to fly to Dubai on a commercial flight, but staff at Bandaranaike International withdrew from VIP services and insisted that all passengers had to go through public counters.

The presidential party was reluctant to go through regular channels, fearing public reactions, a security official said, and as a result, missed four flights on Monday that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

Clearance for a military flight to land in nearby India was not immediately secured, a security official said, and at one point on Tuesday the group headed to a naval base with a view to fleeing by sea.

On arrival in the Maldives, his party was driven to an undisclosed location under police escort, an airport official in the capital Male said.

Rajapaksa’s youngest brother Basil, who resigned in April as finance minister, missed his own Emirates flight to Dubai early Tuesday after a tense standoff of his own with the airport staff.

Basil — who holds US citizenship in addition to Sri Lankan — tried to use a paid concierge service for business travellers, but the airport and immigration staff said they had withdrawn from the fast-track service.

The leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, Sajith Premadasa, who lost the 2019 presidential election to Rajapaksa, has said he will stand for the position.

Premadasa is the son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated in a Tamil rebel suicide bombing in May 1993.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.

The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

Sri Lanka President Flees His Country On A Military Aircraft

In this file photo taken on November 17, 2019, Sri Lanka's President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa waves to supporters as he leaves the election commission office in Colombo. Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 17, 2019, Sri Lanka’s President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa waves to supporters as he leaves the election commission office in Colombo. Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s embattled president flew out of his country early Wednesday, in a probable prelude to his resignation after months of widespread protests over the island nation’s worst-ever economic crisis.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa had promised at the weekend to resign on Wednesday and clear the way for a “peaceful transition of power”, after fleeing his official residence in Colombo just before tens of thousands of protesters overran it.

As president, 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, his wife and a bodyguard were among four passengers on board an Antonov-32 military aircraft which took off from the main international airport heading for the neighbouring Maldives, according to immigration sources.

READ ALSO: Ukraine, Russia To Hold Grain Talks As War Sends Food Prices Soaring

“Their passports were stamped and they boarded the special air force flight,” an immigration official involved in the process told AFP.

The departure of the 73-year-old leader once known as ‘The Terminator’ had been stymied for more than 24 hours in a humiliating stand-off with immigration personnel at the airport.

He had wanted to fly to Dubai on a commercial flight, but staff at Bandaranaike International withdrew from VIP services and insisted that all passengers had to go through public counters.

The presidential party were reluctant to go through regular channels fearing public reactions, a security official said, and as a result missed four flights on Monday that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

Clearance for a military flight to land in the closest neighbour India was not immediately secured, a security official said, and at one point on Tuesday the group headed to a naval base with a view to fleeing by sea.

Rajapaksa’s youngest brother Basil, who resigned in April as finance minister, missed his own Emirates flight to Dubai early Tuesday after a tense standoff of his own with airport staff.

Basil — who holds US citizenship in addition to Sri Lankan nationality — tried to use a paid concierge service for business travellers, but airport and immigration staff said they had withdrawn from the fast track service.

Unity government

Basil had to obtain a new US passport after leaving his behind at the presidential palace when the Rajapaksas beat a hasty retreat to avoid mobs on Saturday, a diplomatic source said.

Official sources said a suitcase full of documents had also been left behind at the stately mansion along with 17.85 million rupees (about $50,000) in cash, now in the custody of a Colombo court.

There was no official word from the president’s office about his whereabouts, but he remained commander-in-chief of the armed forces with military resources at his disposal.

Rajapaksa is accused of mismanaging the economy to a point where the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for the 22 million population.

If he steps down as promised, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will automatically become acting president until parliament elects an MP to serve out the presidential term, which ends in November 2024.

But Wickremesinghe has himself announced his willingness to step down if consensus is reached on forming a unity government.

The succession process could take between three days — the minimum time taken to convene parliament — and a maximum of 30 days allowed under the statute. If Rajapaksa does step down on Wednesday, the vote would take place on July 20, the parliamentary speaker has said.

The leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, Sajith Premadasa, who lost the 2019 presidential election to Rajapaksa, has said he will stand for the position.

Premadasa is the son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated in a Tamil rebel suicide bombing in May 1993.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.

The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

AFP

Sri Lanka’s President To Resign After Being Chased From Home

Protestors demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gather inside the compound of Sri Lanka's Presidential Palace in Colombo on July 9, 2022. (Photo by AFP)
Protestors demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gather inside the compound of Sri Lanka’s Presidential Palace in Colombo on July 9, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

 

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his resignation on Saturday, hours after a crowd of angry protesters chased him from his residence, as months of frustration brought on by an unprecedented economic crisis boiled over.

Hundreds of thousands of people massed in the capital Colombo to demand the government take responsibility for mismanaging the nation’s finances, and for crippling food and fuel shortages.

After storming the gates of the presidential palace, a throng of protesters walked through its rooms, with some among the boisterous crowd jumping into the compound’s pool.

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Others were seen laughing and lounging in the stately bedrooms of the residence, with one pulling out what he claimed was a pair of Rajapaksa’s underwear.

At around the same time, the leader had boarded a naval craft at the Colombo port and was taken to the island’s southern waters, where he let it be known he was finally bowing to months of calls for his resignation.

“To ensure a peaceful transition, the president said he will step down on July 13,” parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana said in a televised statement.

Rajapaksa had to be extracted from his residence by troops who fired into the air to keep the crowd outside at bay.

Soon after they stormed the presidential palace, Rajapaksa’s nearby seafront office also fell into the hands of protesters.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the first person in line to succeed Rajapaksa, called a meeting with political leaders and said he was willing to step down to pave the way for a unity government.

But that failed to placate protesters, who stormed the premier’s private residence and set it alight after night fell.

Footage shared on social media showed a crowd cheering the blaze, which broke out shortly after a security detachment guarding Wickremesinghe attacked several journalists outside the home.

No casualties have been reported in the fire so far, and police said Wickremesinghe and his family were away at the time.

Security forces attempted to disperse the huge crowds that had mobbed Colombo’s administrative district earlier in the day, with dozens injured in the resulting clashes.

A spokeswoman for Colombo’s main hospital said three people were being treated for gunshot wounds, along with 36 others suffering breathing difficulties after being caught up in tear gas barrages.

‘Not a deterrent’

Sri Lanka has suffered through months of shortages of basic goods, lengthy blackouts and galloping inflation after running out of foreign currency to import necessities.

The government has defaulted on its $51 billion external debt and is seeking an International Monetary Fund bailout.

Thousands of people had poured into the capital for Saturday’s demonstration, the latest outbreak of unrest sparked by the crisis.

Police had withdrawn a curfew issued on Friday after opposition parties, rights activists and the bar association threatened to sue the police chief.

Thousands of anti-government protesters ignored the stay-home order and even forced railway authorities to operate trains to take them to Colombo for Saturday’s rally, officials said.

“The curfew was not a deterrent. In fact, it encouraged more people to get on the streets in defiance,” the defence official said.

Sri Lanka has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol, and people unable to travel to the capital held protests in other cities across the island.

Demonstrators had already maintained a months-long protest camp outside Rajapaksa’s office demanding his resignation.

The camp was the scene of clashes in May when a gang of Rajapaksa loyalists attacked peaceful protesters gathered there.

Nine people were killed and hundreds were wounded after the violence sparked reprisals against pro-government mobs and arson attacks on the homes of lawmakers.

Cricket goes on

The unrest comes at the tail end of Australia’s ongoing cricket tour of Sri Lanka, with Pakistan’s squad also on the island for their upcoming series.

Cricket officials said there were no plans to change their schedules, adding that the sport was unaffected by the political turmoil.

“The Australian Test is coming to an end and we are due to start the Pakistan series,” a cricket board official told AFP.

“There is no opposition to having the games. In fact, fans are supportive and we have no reason to reschedule.”

 

AFP

Sri Lanka President Vows To Scrap Reforms Limiting His Power

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaks at the national Parliament session in Colombo on August 20, 2020. – Sri Lanka’s new parliament opened its first session on August 20 with a murderer and an accused killer among its ranks after a sweeping election victory by the ruling Rajapaksa brothers. ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP.

 

Sri Lanka’s president vowed Wednesday to abolish a controversial constitutional provision restricting his powers as he opened a new parliamentary session following his party’s sweeping election victory.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, campaigned for voters to give their party a two-thirds parliamentary majority in the August 5 poll so they could roll back reforms brought in by the previous administration.

Their Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) won 145 seats and secured the support of six allies, one seat more than the minimum number needed to change the constitution in the 225-seat legislature.

“The people have given us the mandate we wanted for a constitutional amendment,” Rajapaksa said in his address to parliament, adding it would be “our first task”.

He also repeated a previous assertion, without giving further details, that he wanted an entirely new constitution to replace the current one introduced in 1978 when Sri Lanka changed to a presidential system.

The Rajapaksa brothers are adored by the Sinhala-Buddhist majority for spearheading the defeat of Tamil separatist militants in 2009 to end the bloody 37-year civil war when Mahinda was president and Gotabaya was secretary to the ministry of defence.

But they have also attracted criticism from the international community, with the security services they controlled accused of war crimes committed in the final months of the conflict.

Mahinda was ousted from the presidency after a decade in power when he lost the 2015 elections.

But with Gotabaya’s election in the November 2019 presidential poll, and his appointment of Mahinda as PM, analysts warn that the brothers would try to ensure they do not lose power again.

– Murderer, accused killer in new parliament –

Gotabaya’s remarks came as the new parliament opened its first session Thursday with a murderer and an accused killer among its ranks.

One member of the new legislature was convicted of murder only after nominations closed for the August 5 polls — allowing him to run for a seat — while another is awaiting trial.

Premalal Jayasekara, a returning MP from the ruling SLPP, was found guilty in the killing of a political activist in 2015.

Jayasekara — who did not appear in person for the first parliamentary session — is appealing against the verdict as well as the death sentence he was given.

He is the first convicted murderer to serve as an MP in Sri Lanka, where there is no provision under the law to disqualify him until he serves six months behind bars.

Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, in parliament for the first time after winning a seat for a minor party in an alliance with the SLPP, was escorted from prison to attend Thursday’s parliamentary session.

He is awaiting trial for allegedly killing a legislator during a 2005 Christmas mass.

Brushes with the law are no bar to a career in politics in South Asia.

More than 40 percent of lawmakers in neighbouring India’s parliament face criminal charges — some as serious as murder and rape –- according to an electoral reform group, the Association of Democratic Reforms.

AFP

Court Drops Corruption Charges Against New Sri Lanka President

Sri Lanka’s President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives to take the oath of office during his swearing-in ceremony at the Ruwanwelisaya temple in Anuradhapura on November 18, 2019. Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

 

 

Corruption charges against Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa were dropped Thursday by a court, which handed his passport back as he acquired immunity from prosecution after being elected last weekend.

Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, no court proceedings can be maintained against a serving president. However, action could be taken after he leaves office.

The High Court had indicted Rajapaksa in September last year on charges of siphoning off 33 million rupees (around $185,000) in state funds to build a memorial for his parents.

The court also released his passport which had been impounded, allowing him to make his first overseas trip as president to India next week at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Rajapaksa was being tried before a special court established by the former government to expedite high-profile corruption cases. Rajapaksa, 70, had pleaded not guilty.

Six others were also charged along with Rajapaksa and their fate will be decided when the case is taken up for a hearing on January 9, the court said.

Official sources said Rajapaksa was also entitled to claim foreign sovereign immunity in respect to two civil cases filed against him in California for allegedly causing the death of a senior newspaper editor and torture.

He has denied responsibility for the killing of anti-establishment editor Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009 and torturing suspects when he headed the defence ministry under brother Mahinda’s presidency between 2005 and 2015.

Wickrematunge was murdered days before he was due to testify in a defamation case brought by Gotabaya Rajapaksa after his paper accused him of corruption in a deal to buy MiG jets from Ukraine.

Rajapaksa was elected president on Saturday and was due later Thursday to swear in his brother Mahinda as prime minister.