July 12 (The Hindu) – The United States rejected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent request for a visa, The Hindu learns from a top official, amid growing speculation over the besieged leader’s “attempts to flee” the country after promising to quit office.
Mr. Gotabaya, formerly a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the U.S., gave up his American citizenship ahead of the 2019 elections because of a law that barred foreign nationals from running for the presidency. He won the election with a thumping majority but became, arguably, the country’s most unpopular leader mid-term, amid a severe economic meltdown that is stifling citizens.
“He sought a safe passage to the U.S. after the recent events, but it was denied,” the Colombo-based official said on Tuesday. Mr. Gotabaya’s reported attempt to leave the island follows his decision to resign, prompted by a sensational citizens’ protest on Saturday. Resisting his failed response to the unprecedented economic crisis gripping the island, a wave of protesters stormed the Presidential Secretariat and residence in Colombo in a dramatic escalation of months-long protests demanding that Mr. Gotabaya “go home”. He was evacuated from his official residence hours before the incident, officials said. However, his whereabouts remain unknown since.
The Hindu sought a comment from the American Embassy in Colombo but is yet to receive a response. In a statement on Sunday, American Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung called upon all parties “to cooperate to achieve a peaceful, democratic transition of power”. It signalled a clear shift from the U.S.’s position just a month ago, when President Gotabaya appointed PM Ranil Wickremesinghe as Premier, disregarding widespread citizens’ agitations, to prolong the life of his government that a majority of Sri Lankans had deemed untenable.
“Look forward to working w/ @RW_UNP. His appointment as PM, and the quick formation of an inclusive government, are first steps to addressing the crisis & promoting stability. We encourage meaningful progress at the IMF & long-term solutions that meet the needs of all Sri Lankans,” the Ambassador said in a tweet on May 12.