Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was blocked from departing Sri Lanka on Monday after refusing to join a public queue at the Bandaranaike International Airport in order to have his passport checked by immigration, a high-ranking military source told CNN.
Aides for Rajapaksa arrived at the airport in Colombo on Monday with 15 passports belonging to the president and members of his family — including First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa — who had booked seats on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight leaving for Dubai at 6:25 p.m. local time, according to the military source.
Immigration officers declined to process the passports given to them by presidential aides, as Rajapaksa and his family were not physically present for cross checks and, eventually, the flight departed without the president and his family on board, the source added.
Another attempt was made to get the family on an Etihad flight scheduled to leave Colombo for Abu Dhabi at 9:20 p.m. local, according to the source, however the same problem occurred, as the Rajapaksas refused to queue for the flight and show up in person at immigration for passport checks.
In both instances, the Rajapaksa family was in a nearby airport lounge, waiting for confirmation they could board without queuing among members of the public, the source said.
Rajapaksa is due to formally leave office on Wednesday, after being forced to resign in the wake of months-long protests over the nation’s crippling economic crisis.
He agreed to step down on Saturday after more than 100,000 people massed outside Rajapaksa’s residence and called for his resignation. Some of the protesters then broke into the property and splashed around in his swimming pool.
Striking images shared on social media showed demonstrators singing protest songs and chanting slogans calling for Rajapaksa to resign. Other photos showed groups of demonstrators setting up barbecue pits to grill and cook food.
Rajapaksa’s current whereabouts within Sri Lanka are unknown. On Tuesday, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) denied that he is currently staying in a private residence belonging to Air Force Chief Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana, according to a SLAF statement.
The SLAF issued the denial after a video released by a former police officer claimed that the President was staying in a private house belonging to the Air Force Commander.
The SLAF said that there is no truth behind the report and described it as propaganda intended to tarnish the image of the SLAF and its chief.
The drastic escalation of unrest could spell the end of the Rajapaksa family’s political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
His inability to leave Sri Lanka has cast doubts over the timeline for him leaving office though, as his planned resignation would leave Rajapaksa without presidential immunity — potentially exposing him to a raft of legal charges and reduced security.
Rajapaksa stands accused of high-level corruption and economic mismanagement, which ultimately bankrupted the country and triggered its worst financial crisis since independence.