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Former Sri Lankan president arrives in Thailand for temporary stay

His stay in country, on humanitarian reasons, will be temporary, say the Thai authorities

BANGKOK - Former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived in Bangkok last night for what the Thai authorities said would be a temporary stay, after spending four weeks in Singapore following his ouster in mid-July.

Mr Rajapaksa, 73, arrived at Don Mueang Airport around 8pm (Bangkok time) with his wife, and they were seen leaving the terminal in a black car around 40 minutes later.

They had departed from Singapore's Seletar Airport earlier in the evening via a charter plane.

Thailand received a request from the current Sri Lankan government to allow the former president entry into the kingdom, Mr Tanee Sangrat, director-general of Thailand's Department of Information and spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said on Wednesday.

The consideration was based on longstanding and cordial ties between Thailand and Sri Lanka, he added.

As he still holds a Sri Lankan diplomatic passport, Mr Rajapaksa can enter Thailand without a visa and stay for 90 days, according to the 2013 Agreement on Visa Exemption between the two countries. "The stay is temporary in nature with the aim of onward travel. No political asylum has been sought," said Mr Tanee.

The two countries have no extradition treaty.

It is not clear how long Mr Rajapaksa will remain in Thailand or where his next destination may be.

On Wednesday, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that Mr Rajapaksa's stay was allowed on "humanitarian reasons" and that the former president had promised not to conduct political activities during his stay, while seeking political asylum in a third country.

"This is a humanitarian issue. We have made a promise that it is a temporary stay. No (political) activities are allowed, and this will help him find a country to take refuge in," Mr Prayut was quoted as saying in The Bangkok Post.

Mr Rajapaksa's arrival in Bangkok marks his second South-east Asian stop as he seeks refuge from the political turmoil in his homeland and the massive protests largely targeted at him.

He fled to Singapore on July 14 via the Maldives following unprecedented unrest triggered by Sri Lanka's worst economic crisis in seven decades, and days after thousands of protesters stormed the presidential residence and office.

Shortly after arriving in Singapore, Mr Rajapaksa tendered his resignation as the country's leader.

While in Singapore, he kept a low profile and was not seen in public. He initially stayed at a hotel in the city centre, but was believed to have moved to a private residence.

The extension of his initial 14-day short-term visit pass to the country expired yesterday.

The Singapore authorities had said the former president had been allowed entry to the country on a private visit, and had not asked for, or was granted, asylum.

Mr Rajapaksa's successor, then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was sworn in as acting president of Sri Lanka on July 15. His position was sealed on July 20 when he was elected by Sri Lanka's Parliament, and he was sworn in the next day.

Mr Wickremesinghe has since promised to pass laws to limit the powers of the president - which is one of the protesters' key demands. He has also declared a state of emergency that has resulted in a crackdown on protesters and key organisers in the country.

• Additional reporting by Jessie Lim

 

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