Sri Lanka: Ex-President Rajapaksa returned from exile

Status: 03.09.2022 1:16 p.m

Mass protests forced Sri Lanka’s head of state, Rajapaksa, to flee abroad in July. Now he has returned. This threatens the island state with new tensions. Sri Lanka is in a severe economic crisis.

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has returned home seven weeks after fleeing abroad. The 73-year-old landed at the airport in the capital Colombo late Friday evening. As an airport employee said, he was received by ministers and other politicians with garlands of flowers.

Two government officials told Reuters that Rajapaksa had been placed in a residence and security forces had been assigned to protect him. The government initially did not officially comment on the return of the controversial politician.

He was still president then: Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the country’s Independence Day celebrations in Colombo in February.

Image: AP

Escape after weeks of protests

The ex-president fled his residence on July 13 after tens of thousands of people stormed and occupied this and several other government buildings. Sri Lanka is suffering from the worst economic crisis since independence from Great Britain in 1948. The 22 million inhabitants lack food, fuel and medicine. This has been blamed by many Rajapaksa.

The protests against the then head of state escalated in early July. The television pictures of demonstrators storming his residence and splashing around in the swimming pool, among other things, went around the world. With his wife and two bodyguards, Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives on a military plane. A day later he flew on to Singapore, where he announced his resignation. Two weeks later, he traveled to Thailand on a diplomatic visa at the request of the Sri Lankan government. Now he flew back to Sri Lanka from Bangkok via Singapore.

corruption and nepotism

His return threatens the crisis state with new tensions. There is no arrest warrant for Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka. A corruption case against him, dating back to his time as Secretary of Defense, was dropped after he was elected president in 2019 because he enjoyed immunity in his new post. Further investigations were also discontinued.

A new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has now been elected. However, many people in Sri Lanka also regard Wickremesinghe as a representative of the political system that stands for Rajapaksa. Critics accuse the political elite of nepotism and corruption.

Precarious situation despite economic aid

Last week, Sri Lanka signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $2.9 billion loan to help overcome the severe economic crisis.

But despite the prospect of billions in aid, Sri Lanka is still in a precarious situation, according to the rating agency Fitch. “Political instability poses risks to the implementation of reforms and the allocation of IMF resources, even if debt restructuring is agreed,” Fitch wrote.

Sri Lanka’s ex-president returns from exile

Charlotte Horn, ARD New Delhi, September 3, 2022 1:32 p.m

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