Sri Lanka’s ousted president returns home after fleeing

Sep 3, 2022, 2:56 AM | Updated: 4:22 am
A motorcade which is believed to be conveying Sri Lanka's former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa leave...

A motorcade which is believed to be conveying Sri Lanka's former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaves the Bandaranaike International airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country in July after tens of thousands of protesters stormed his home and office in a display of anger over the country's economic crisis, has returned to the country after seven weeks. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

(AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country in July after tens of thousands of protesters stormed his home and office in a display of anger over the country’s economic crisis, returned to the country early Saturday after seven weeks.

Rajapaksa flew into Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport around midnight Friday from Bangkok via Singapore. On being welcomed by lawmakers in his party, Rajapaksa left the airport in a motorcade heavily guarded by armed soldiers and reached a government-owned house allocated to him as a former president at the center of the capital, Colombo.

On July 13, the ousted leader, his wife and two bodyguards left aboard an air force plane for the Maldives, before traveling to Singapore from where he officially resigned. He flew to Thailand two weeks later.

Rajapaksa has no court case or arrest warrant pending against him. The only court case he was facing for alleged corruption during his time as the secretary to the Ministry of Defense under his older brother’s presidency was withdrawn when he was elected president in 2019 because of constitutional immunity.

For months, Sri Lanka has been in the grips of its worst economic crisis, which triggered extraordinary protests and unprecedented public rage that ultimately forced Rajapaksa and his brother, the former prime minister, to step down. The situation in the bankrupt country was made worse by global factors like the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but many hold the once-powerful Rajapaksa family as responsible for severely mismanaging the economy and tipping it into crisis.

The economic meltdown has seen monthslong shortages of essentials such as fuel, medicine and cooking gas due to a severe shortage of foreign currency. Though cooking gas supplies were restored through World Bank support, shortages of fuel, critical medicines and some food items continue.

The island nation has suspended repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. The country’s total foreign debt amounts to more than $51 billion, of which $28 billion has to be repaid by 2027.

On Tuesday, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over after Rajapaksa resigned, and his administration reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $2.9 billion bailout package over four years to help the country recover.

Rajapaksa, a former military officer, was elected on promises to uplift the country’s economy and ensure national security after Islamic State-inspired bomb attacks killed some 270 people in churches and hotels on Easter Sunday 2019. He relinquished his American citizenship when he contested the election because laws at the time made dual citizens ineligible from holding political office.

As a top defense official, he is accused of overseeing human rights violations by the military during the country’s three-decade civil war with the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who fought for an independent state for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils.

In April, protesters started camping outside the president’s office in the heart of Colombo and chanted “Gota, go home,” a demand for Rajapaksa to quit, which quickly became the rallying cry of the movement.

The demonstrations dismantled the Rajapaksa family’s grip on politics. Before Rajapaksa resigned, his older brother stepped down as prime minister and three more close family members quit their Cabinet positions.

But the country’s new president, Wickremesinghe, has since cracked down on protests. His first action as leader included dismantling the protest tents in the middle of the night as police forcibly removed demonstrators from the site and attacked them.

There is genuine fear among people who want to protest now, said Bhavani Fonseksa, with the independent think tank Center for Policy Alternatives.

“Whether people will take to the streets to demonstrate again is still to be seen, especially since there’s been so much repression since Ranil Wickremesinghe came to power. Several protesters have been arrested so there is genuine fear,” she said.

Dayan Jayatilleka, a former diplomat and political analyst, said the ruling SLPP party will welcome him back, but didn’t think his return would spark people to flood the streets again. “They will be sour — it is still far too early for him to return,” he said.

“There is no way Gotabaya will be forgiven for his transgressions but I think now there is more bitterness than public rage that awaits him,” Jayatilleka added.

For Nazly Hameem, an organizer who helped lead the protest movement, the former president’s return isn’t an issue “as long as he is held accountable.”

“He is a Sri Lankan citizen so no one can prevent him from coming back. But as someone who wants justice against the corrupt system, I would like to see action taken — there should be justice, they should file cases against him and hold him accountable for what he did to the country.”

“Our slogan was ‘Gota, go home’ — we didn’t expect him to flee, we wanted him to resign. As long as he doesn’t involve himself in active politics, it won’t be a problem.”

___

Pathi reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writer Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              FILE- Sri Lanka's president elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa waves to supporters as he leaves the election commission after the announcement of his victory in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, file photo. The ousted  President is expected to return home Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, more than seven weeks after he fled the country amid mass protests that demanded his resignation, holding him and his family responsible for the country's economic crisis. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

AP

FILE - Chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm in Iowa on Oct. 21, 2015. Nebraska agri...
Associated Press

Bird flu prompts slaughter of 1.8M chickens in Nebraska

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska agriculture officials say another 1.8 million chickens must be killed after bird flu was found on a farm in the latest sign that the outbreak that has already prompted the slaughter of more than 50 million birds nationwide continues to spread. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture said Saturday that the […]
11 hours ago
This image released by Disney shows a scene from the animated film "Strange World." (Disney via AP)...
Associated Press

Feast and famine for Disney at Thanksgiving box office

Thanksgiving often serves up a feast of new family movies at the box office, but the Walt Disney Co.’s animated offering ” Strange World ” fizzled with audiences out of the gates. The production, which carried a reported $180 million budget, grossed just $18.6 million in ticket sales in its first five days and $11.9 […]
11 hours ago
A youth uses his smartphone as he and a friend walk along the Malecon seawall in Havana, Cuba, Frid...
Associated Press

Cuba’s informal market finds new space on growing internet

HAVANA (AP) — In the Telegram group chat, the messages roll in like waves. “I need liquid ibuprofen and acetaminophen, please,” wrote one user. “It’s urgent, it’s for my 10-month-old baby.” Others offer medicine brought from outside of Cuba, adding, “Write to me in a direct message.” Emoji-speckled lists offer antibiotics, pregnancy tests, vitamins, rash […]
11 hours ago
An inflatable depicting the World Cup trophy is seen during pregame celebrations prior to the World...
Associated Press

Saudi viewers angry over apparent ban on World Cup streaming

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — World Cup viewers in Saudi Arabia say the government has blocked a Qatari-owned streaming service that was supposed to broadcast matches in the kingdom. The suspension has stunned and outraged customers of TOD TV, which holds the rights to show the World Cup in Saudi Arabia. TOD TV is owned by […]
11 hours ago
FILE - Vern Miyagi, Administrator, HEMA, left, and Hawaii Gov. David Ige addressed the media during...
Associated Press

Hawaii Gov. Ige looks back on coronavirus, tourism shutdown

HONOLULU (AP) — As Hawaii’s governor, David Ige faced a volcanic eruption that destroyed 700 homes, protests blocking construction of a cutting-edge multibillion-dollar telescope and a false alert about an incoming ballistic missile. During the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism shut down and Hawaii’s unemployment rate soared to 22.4%. Crisis response is one way to sum up […]
11 hours ago
Sheetal Deo and her husband, Sanmeet Deo, hold a Hindu swastika symbol in their home in Syosset, N....
Associated Press

Asian faiths try to save sacred swastika corrupted by Hitler

Sheetal Deo was shocked when she got a letter from her Queens apartment building’s co-op board calling her Diwali decoration “offensive” and demanding she take it down. “My decoration said ‘Happy Diwali’ and had a swastika on it,” said Deo, a physician, who was celebrating the Hindu festival of lights. The equilateral cross with its […]
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Sri Lanka’s ousted president returns home after fleeing