Sri Lankan president’s brother attempts to flee country, thwarted by airport officials, passengers

Sri Lanka’s former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa attempted to flee the crisis-hit nation on Monday night, but was thwarted by airport officials and passengers who recognized him and blocked his way.

The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

Basil, who also happens to be the younger brother of embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, missed his flight to Dubai after passengers protested against him when he tried to board the plane departing from the international airport in Colombo.

Videos shared on social media, whose veracity India Today could not independently verify, showed passengers objecting to Basil Rajapaksa’s presence at the airport and demanding that he not be allowed to leave the country.

The Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers Association said its members declined to serve the former minister at the VIP departure lounge. Images shared widely on Twitter showed Basil Rajapaksa waiting in the lounge after immigration officials left their posts and refused to clear him for departure.

Image shared on social media shows immigration officials at Colombo airport refusing to clear Basil Rajapaksa.

Speculations are rife that Rajapaksa was attempting to make his way to the United States, as he holds an American passport also. Top sources in the ruling party told Reuters that he is still in Sri Lanka after his bid to flee was foiled early on Tuesday.

Basil Rajapaksa, 71, resigned as finance minister in early April as street protests surged against shortages of fuel, food and other necessities. He quit his seat in parliament in June.

Public anger is high against Sri Lanka’s powerful ruling family due to their alleged poor handling of the economic meltdown. The Rajapaksa clan, including former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and outgoing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has dominated the politics of the island nation for years and most Sri Lankans have blamed them for their current misery.

The economic woes triggered nationwide protests in March this year, which reached a climax last weekend as protesters stormed the presidential palace and Prime Minister’s Ranil Wickremesinghe’s home, vowing to occupy both places till the two leaders step down.

(With inputs from Ashutosh Mishra, Pramod Madhav and Agencies)

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