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Gota put up at State bungalow as he returns to a 'hero’s welcome'

COLOMBO, Sept 3: Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 73, who had fled the country in July in the wake of countrywide protests against shortages and a massive economic crisis that almost threatened the very existence of the island nation, has been allotted a State bungalow and round-the-clock security in accordance with the constitutional provisions about entitlements for ex-presidents as he returned on Friday night.

The former President received a warm welcome from Ministers, politicians and officials at the airport. First Gotabaya had fled to Maldives aboard a Sri Lankan Air Force plane and after a week's stay there went to Singapore and later Thailand where he has been staying since. From Singapore he had sent his resignation. None of the three countries offered him permanent residence. In Thailand he was confined to a hotel and surrounded by security personnel and told he could stay till 90 days as he was still a diplomatic passport holder. It is reported that he is also waiting for a US green card to go there.

Gotabaya was an ex-military officer, and became President in November, 2019.

Incidentally, or by calculation, his arrival followed the IMF assistance to bail out the Government from the huge debts it is in. It was the economic crisis that led to the uprising and the President's departure. Inflation rate too had crossed a colossal 60%. The IMF fund sanctioned was to the tune of US $ 2.9 billion.

The protests had ebbed away when parliament elected Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President. Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister nominated by Gotabaya when Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to quit.

Gotabaya had fled from the country in July as countrywide protests against shortages of food, fuel and medicines intensified and crowds stormed and occupied his palace. His ruling family was blamed for the never-seen-before economic crisis. The Government had become bankrupt, overburdened by foreign debts and lack of foreign exchange to pay for essential imports. Lanka imports all essential items with its mainstay being only revenue from tourism which was affected by the two years of covid pandemic.

Rajapaksas' party is Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) while the ruling party is the one-man Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party of Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe has a mandate to serve the rest of Rajapaksa’s term, which ends in November 2024.

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