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Catch me if you can - Gotabaya Rajapaksa is on the move and headed to Singapore

Sri Lanka’s besieged president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reportedly left the Maldives, where he fled to earlier this week and is currently on his way to Singapore.

According to the Associated Press, the war crimes accused president will then fly to Saudi Arabia, from Singapore.

Reports from Maldivian journalists suggest that Rajapaksa and his wife are on Saudi Arabian Airlines flight SV788 from Male to Singapore. He will land in Singapore shortly before 7PM local time.

Rumours had been circulating that Rajapaksa was set to leave at some point over the last 24 hours, with reports of private flights and military aircraft being arranged to take him. Journalists had been camped out at the VIP Complex at Singapore’s Changi Airport with hopes of spotting the president.

Protestors had also reportedly been organising in lieu of Rajapaksa’s arrival, with attempts from Singapore’s significant Tamil population to ensure the Sri Lankan president faces justice.

Rajapaksa has been trying to flee Sri Lanka since Saturday after tens of thousands of protesters stormed his official residence. Though he reportedly stated he would step down, yesterday he appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president amidst continued protests in Colombo.

According to Tessa Wong of the BBC,

The rich city-state has in the past played host to controversial figures such as Thein Sein, Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-un. But harbouring Mr Rajapaksa for the long term is likely a line they will not cross.

This is a man accused of war crimes, under intense global scrutiny right now, having gone on the run while his country slides into economic collapse. The international criticism Singapore would receive would not be worth it. Authorities would also have to contend with the backlash from the Singapore public which in recent years has become more vocal and assertive.

The country also has a significant Tamil population, some of whom are of Sri Lankan heritage. Mr Rajapaksa is accused of allowing the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians during the civil war while he was defence minister.

Many Tamil Singaporeans would be furious by his presence, which would in turn rock the peace authorities have painstakingly maintained. In short, the longer Mr Rajapaksa stays in Singapore, the bigger the headache for authorities. And it may be a headache they would rather do without.

After fleeing to the Maldives on a military flight, Rajapaksa was staying within a resort in the country the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, with nightly costs between US$ 5,903 and US$ 8,760.  The resort owner is alleged to have a close relationship with the Maldives foreign minister Abdullah Shahid. 

The 73-year-old former defence secretary was reportedly trying to flee the country before he is scheduled to step down and lose immunity as a head of state that protects him from prosecution for a range of crimes. He reportedly fears being arrested and placed on trial where he could face prosecution for his financial crimes, as well as his genocide of Tamils.

More to follow.

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