By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
He had been in hiding since Saturday as demonstrations escalated.
The 73-year-old leader, his wife, and a bodyguard were among four passengers on board an Antonov-32 Sri Lankan military aircraft that took off from Colombo’s international airport, immigration officials said.
“Their passports were stamped, and they boarded the special air force flight,” an immigration official involved in the process added.
There was no immediate confirmation Rajapaksa had reached the Maldives.
His departure from the nation came just days after angry crowds overran the compound and stormed his nearby office. Several protestors dived into the president’s swimming pool, footage showed Saturday.
Thousands of people had surrounded the leader’s home to demand his resignation. They blamed government mismanagement for a downturn that has subjected the island nation’s 22 million people to months of bitter hardship.
Airport officials said the aircraft carrying the president was held up for over an hour on the tarmac without being able to take off following confusion over permission to land in the Maldives.
“There were some anxious moments, but in the end, everything worked out OK,” an airport official said. “The aircraft is due to land at the Male international airport.”
Rajapaksa, due to resign on Wednesday after months of demonstrations against him officially, reportedly tried to escape to Dubai on Monday night.
But immigration staff prevented the president from going to the VIP area of the airport to stamp his passport, officials said. According to sources familiar with the standoff, he would not go through the ordinary queues for fear of being mobbed by the public.
Rajapaksa reportedly missed four flights to the United Arab Emirates. He, his wife, a dozen other family members, and close aides spent the night at a nearby military base.
The president apparently attempted to follow several avenues of escape in recent days. The Indian government reportedly refused permission for a Sri Lankan military plane carrying the president to land at an Indian civilian airport. At the same time, the U.S. embassy declined to grant him a visitor visa, according to embassy sources.
Rajapaksa, who lived in America for years and has a son and grandchild there, gave up his dual U.S. citizenship to run for president, which means he is now ineligible for a visitor visa.
While he is still president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest. Critics say he sought to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
He is accused of supervising corruption and economic mismanagement that have bankrupted the country and triggered the worst financial crisis on record.
The president has reportedly also been accused of war crimes, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
These crimes reportedly happened during his time as defense minister, when he brought the civil war and fought against the Tamil minority to a bloody end in 2009.
However, for over a decade, the allegations against him have been prevented from reaching the courts.
Amid the mounting pressure, the president had signs of a hasty departure.
Official sources said a suitcase full of documents had been left behind at his stately mansion along with 17.85 million rupees (nearly ($50,000) in cash, now in the custody of a Colombo court.
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