Ousted Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faced calls for his arrest on Saturday after returning home from self-imposed exile under the protection of the government that took office when he fled.
Rajapaksa fled the island nation under military escort in July after huge crowds stormed his official residence following months of angry protests against his government.
The 73-year-old announced his resignation from Singapore and spent weeks under virtual house arrest in a Bangkok hotel lobbying his successor to allow his return.
Leaders of the protest campaign that toppled his government said Rajapaksa, who lost his presidential immunity after leaving office, should now be brought to justice.
“Gotabaya came back because no country wants to accept him, he has no place to hide,” Joseph Stalin, the leader of a teachers’ union that helped set up the school, told AFP. mobilize protesters.
“He should be arrested immediately for causing such misery to the 22 million people of Sri Lanka. He should be prosecuted for his crimes.”
Rajapaksa’s government has been accused of chaotic mismanagement as the Sri Lankan economy plunged into an unprecedented downturn.
The crisis has led to severe food shortages, long power outages and long queues at petrol stations for scarce fuel supplies after the country ran out of foreign currency to pay for vital imports.
“He cannot live freely as if nothing had happened,” said Stalin, who was named after the former Soviet leader by his leftist father.
Rajapaksa arrived at Colombo’s main international airport and was wreathed with flowers by a welcoming group of ministers and senior politicians as he disembarked.
He was taken in a security convoy to a new official residence in the capital made available to him by the government of his successor, President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Rajapaksa’s younger brother Basil, the former finance minister, met with Wickremesinghe last month and asked for protection to allow the ousted leader to return.
Rights activists have vowed to push for Rajapaksa to be prosecuted on a litany of charges, including his alleged role in the 2009 murder of prominent editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.
“We welcome his decision to return so that we can bring him to justice for the crimes he has committed,” said Tharindu Jayawardhana, spokesman for the Young Journalists Association of Sri Lanka, on Friday.
Several corruption cases filed against Rajapaksa stalled after his election as president.
Rajapaksa also faces charges in a US court for the murder of Wickrematunge and the torture of Tamil prisoners at the end of the island’s traumatic civil war in 2009.
“Prosperity and Splendor”
Rajapaksa won a landslide election in 2019 after promising “prospects of prosperity and splendor” but saw his popularity plummet as the country’s crisis worsened.
His government has been accused of introducing unsustainable tax cuts that have increased public debt and exacerbated the country’s economic problems.
The coronavirus pandemic has also dealt a hammer blow to the island’s tourism industry and dried up remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad, two important sources of foreign currency.
Wickremesinghe was elected by parliament to see out the rest of Rajapaksa’s term. He has since cracked down on street protests and arrested prominent activists.
The government defaulted on its $51 billion external debt in April and the central bank forecasts a record 8% contraction in GDP this year.
After months of negotiations, the International Monetary Fund on Thursday agreed to a $2.9 billion conditional bailout to fix Sri Lanka’s battered finances.