Sri Lanka’s president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has fled to the Maldives, whose leaders have close ties with the president and his family.
Mr. Rajapaksa left around 2 a.m. Sri Lankan time on an air force plane, said Col. Nalin Herath, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s Defense Ministry, on Wednesday.
The president arrived in the Maldives in a small, two-engine military transport plane, an AN-32, after asking to be taken to the neighboring island nation, according to Group Capt. Gihan Seneviratne, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s air force. The plane has returned to Sri Lanka, he said.
Mr. Rajapaksa was accompanied by the first lady, Ioma Rajapaksa, and two security guards, Capt. Seneviratne said. It was not known whether the Maldives was a transit point or their final destination.
In recent months, with the end of Mr. Rajapaksa’s rule seemingly imminent, the Maldives was repeatedly in the news in Sri Lanka as somewhere the Rajapaksa family, which has dominated Sri Lanka’s politics for much of the past two decades, might seek refuge.
Many leaders of the Maldives ruling party have spent time in exile in Sri Lanka. Mohamed Nasheed, the former Maldivian president and current speaker of the country’s parliament, used Colombo as a base during the years of his own exile. In recent months, he was in Sri Lanka to meet with the country’s leaders and offer help in shoring up international assistance.
Mr. Rajapaksa is a former American citizen who has said he gave up his U.S. passport to run for president of Sri Lanka in 2019. Members of his immediate family live in the United States.
Mujib Mashal contributed reporting.