Sri Lankan leader Rajapaksa arrives in S'pore, tenders his resignation as president

The plane carrying Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arriving in Singapore on July 14, 2022. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew into Singapore from the Maldives on Thursday (July 14) evening, after fleeing Sri Lanka amid a deepening crisis and widespread protests there.

Soon after his arrival, sources told The Straits Times that he had tendered his resignation.

AFP later reported that Mr Rajapaksa sent a letter of resignation via e-mail to the Speaker of Sri Lanka's Parliament, Mr Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, late on Thursday shortly after reaching Singapore. The Speaker's spokesman Indunil Yapa said the letter was being forwarded to the attorney-general who will consider the legal implications before it can be formally accepted. 

According to Reuters, the original document will be flown from Singapore to Colombo "as soon as possible" on the request of Mr Abeywardena, who demanded to see the original copy before formally announcing the resignation. 

The Speaker’s office said late on Thursday the resignation will be announced officially at 7.30am local time (10am Singapore time) on Friday. Plans for the Parliament to reconvene on Friday was postponed earlier with no new date confirmed.

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Mr Rajapaksa arrived at Changi Airport at 7.17pm on a Saudia flight.

It is not clear how long he will stay in Singapore or if he has another destination in mind.

In response to media queries on his entry into Singapore, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman confirmed that Mr Rajapaksa has been allowed entry on a private visit.

"He has not asked for asylum and neither has he been granted any asylum. Singapore generally does not grant requests for asylum," said the spokesman.

The Singapore police said Mr Rajapaksa was on a social visit pass and added: "Police ask that the public, Singaporeans, residents, work pass holders and social visitors alike abide by our local laws. Action will be taken against anyone participating in a public assembly that is illegal."

By 7.30pm, minutes after Mr Rajapaksa's flight arrived at Changi Airport, more than a dozen journalists and cameramen had gathered outside the entrance of the VIP complex.

Just after 8pm, three vehicles - a white BMW, a black Mercedes Vito and a black Toyota Alphard - were seen leaving the compound led by two Certis Cisco riders and a police car. 

In Sri Lanka, protests have been building against his government for months with severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

The turmoil escalated over the weekend as tens of thousands of demonstrators overran Mr Rajapaksa's official residence and occupied other key government buildings in Colombo.

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Mr Rajapaksa, 73, had been expected to formally resign on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka is in the throes of a political upheaval prompted by an economic crisis, which analysts blame on successive governments' economic mismanagement, worsened by the Rajapaksa government's policy missteps since coming to power in late 2019.

The coronavirus pandemic also devastated the country's tourism industry.

Protesters snapping a photo before vacating Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office on July 14, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

At Changi Airport's Terminal 3 where the Saudia plane was scheduled to arrive, a Sri Lankan woman who wanted to be known only as Madam Fatimah was spotted at the arrival gate with her husband.

The pair, who are Singapore permanent residents, said they were sending off their son on an 8pm flight and decided to try and catch a glimpse of Mr Rajapaksa.

Madam Fatimah, 52, said she was upset by the unravelling situation in Sri Lanka. She has family there, including a brother whom she speaks with daily and who has been badly affected by the fuel crisis. His family has had to wait as many as six days for fuel and has switched to bicycles to get around.

The housewife said: "The situation is quite sad. Imagine how much the low-wage workers are suffering… We are gifted to stay in this blessed country."

Members of the media outside Changi Airport's VIP Complex on July 14, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived at Changi Airport at 7.17pm on a Saudia flight. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Also at the airport was Sri Lankan-born engineer Arulampalam Ramasthanan, 38, a Singapore citizen since 2009.

He said life for his family in Sri Lanka had been tough the last few months and he wanted to make this known to the President if he could.

Mr Rajapaksa, who fled to the Maldives from Sri Lanka, was earlier expected to leave the capital Male on Wednesday night. Reports at the time cited sources as saying he was headed to Saudi Arabia via Singapore. Earlier reports said he was either going to Singapore or Dubai.

Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror reported that he did not board a Singapore Airlines flight late on Wednesday night because he was nervous about flying with civilian passengers. The Daily Mirror later said a private jet had landed in Male to ferry Mr Rajapaksa to Singapore, although he later turned out to be travelling on Saudia.

Passengers who disembarked from the Saudia flight told journalists after exiting the gate that they did not experience any delays in their flight. 

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