Malé, Maldives – Despite previous claims that Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was set to depart Maldives via Singapore Airlines SQ431 at 0055 hours on Wednesday, several media outlets are now reporting a change of plans to extend his stay.
Local newspapers have also alleged that Rajapaksa did not board the SQ flight due to safety concerns over travelling with civilians and that he further requested the Maldivian government to provide him with a private jet.
At the time of publishing, news sources confirm that Rajapaksa has not boarded any flight departing Maldives.
Whether Rajapaksa will be allowed to stay, the duration of such transit and his next destination remains unclear as Maldivian leadership has yet to make any official statement on the matter. However, unofficial responses from within the state have denied any government involvement.
Meanwhile, at 0000 hours on Thursday, the incumbent elected leader of Sri Lanka exceeded his self-declared deadline to resign from office. Sri Lanka’s Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has, however, did confirm that Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president in his absence.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa landed at Velana International Airport (VIA) at approximately 1450 hours on Wednesday via a military jet, after a people’s uprising over the country’s worst economic crisis in recent history brought his family’s powerful grip on the island nation to a choking end.
Public ire rose following suggestions that Rapaksa was headed to the neighbouring chain of islands, the outrage further fuelled by news of Maldives’ Parliament Speaker (and former President) Mohamed Nasheed spotted at VIA shortly before said arrival. It should be noted that, although he has not rescinded active duties, Maldives’ President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has not yet returned from the annual Hajj Pilgrimage.
At 1530 on Wednesday, a number of Sri Lankans presently residing and/or working in Maldives, alongside Maldivians, assembled to peacefully protest against the Maldivian government for, according to a group of activists, “safeguarding criminals and thieves”. The protest resulted in the arrest of at least one Sri Lankan national.
Reuters first reported that Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards left the main international airport near Colombo aboard a Sri Lankan Air Force plane during the early hours of Wednesday.
After news of the president’s abrupt departure spread, thousands gathered at the leading protest site in Colombo chanting “Gota [colloq. abbreviation for Gotapaksa] thief, Gota thief”. Hundreds of others stormed the prime minister’s office, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Although Maldives’ leadership powers have historically held close ties with the ruling elite of Sri Lanka, the current administration of the former is led by a party that was formed largely in Colombo while its founding members were in exile from a monocratic regime. As such, many Maldivians have taken to social media, expressing concern over the government’s decision to harbour politicians against the overwhelming will of the Sri Lankan people, their right to hold their own leaders accountable and seemingly in contrast to Maldives’ ruling party’s own ideals.
The public have also raised concerns over the continued safety of the thousands of Maldivians residing in Sri Lanka amid the ongoing unrest.