Sri Lankan president leaves the country after mass protests

(CNN) — Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left the country, according to a senior security official, just hours before his formal resignation.

Rajapaksa and his wife flew out of the country to the Maldivian capital of Male on a Sri Lankan Air Force AN32 troop transport plane, the official said.

Air traffic control in the Maldives refused the request for the plane to land, until Maldivian Parliament Speaker Majlis and former President Mohamed Nasheed intervened, according to the official.

Nasheed told CNN on Monday that he had “not been in contact with Rajapaksas for weeks.”

Sri Lanka’s embattled president was prevented from leaving Sri Lanka at least twice on Monday after refusing to join a public immigration queue at Bandaranaike International Airport, a senior military source told CNN.

Rajapaksa’s aides arrived at Colombo airport on Monday with 15 passports belonging to the president and members of his family, including first lady Ioma Rajapaksa, who had reserved seats on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight leaving for Dubai at 6:25 a.m. pm local time, according to the military source.

But immigration agents refused to process passports given to them by presidential aides, as Rajapaksa and his family were not physically present for cross-checks. Ultimately, the flight departed without the president and his family, the source added.

Elections are called to elect a new president in Sri Lanka 2:05

Another attempt was made to get the family on an Etihad flight scheduled to leave Colombo for Abu Dhabi at 9:20 pm local time, according to the source. However, the same problem occurred as the Rajapaksas refused to join the public immigration queue for the flight.

In both cases, the Rajapaksa family was in an airport lounge, awaiting confirmation that they could board without queuing in the public, the source said.

On Tuesday, a video posted by a former police officer claimed that Rajapaksa was staying at a private home belonging to a top Air Force commander. The Sri Lanka Air Force has denied the claim, describing it as propaganda aimed at smearing the image of the body and the head of it.

forced to resign

Rajapaksa’s expected resignation on Wednesday — in response to months of protests over the country’s crippling economic crisis — would leave him without presidential immunity and potentially exposed to a series of legal charges in the country.

He has been accused of high-level corruption and economic mismanagement, which ultimately bankrupted the country and triggered its worst financial crisis since independence.

Protesters storm the Sri Lankan Presidential Palace complex in Colombo on Saturday.

Rajapaksa agreed to resign from his post on Saturday, after more than 100,000 people gathered outside his residence and called for his resignation. Some of the protesters then stormed the property and jumped into his pool.

Stunning images shared on social media showed protesters singing protest songs and chanting slogans calling for Rajapaksa to step down. Other photos showed groups of protesters setting up grills to grill and cook food.

Journalist Rukshana Rizwie contributed to this report.

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