According to a senior defense source, advisers to Gotabaya Rajapaksa are discussing an escape by the president and his entourage aboard a patrol vessel.

The office of the presidency does not communicate on his situation, but Mr. Rajapaksa remains the commander-in-chief of the armies, thus having military means.

A navy vessel had already used to transfer the head of state on Saturday from the presidential palace besieged by protesters to the port of Trincomalee, in the northeast of the country. Then, Mr. Rajapaksa joined Colombo International Airport by helicopter on Monday.

“The best option now is to get out by sea,” the defense official said. “He could go to the Maldives or India and fly to Dubai.”

Another option, the source added, would be to charter a flight from Mattala International Airport.

Opened in 2013, this infrastructure is often considered a white elephant, without regular international flights and described as probably the least used international airport in the world.

Earlier in the day, immigration officials at Colombo airport denied Mr Rajapaksa access to the VIP lounge to have his passport stamped, as the head of state wanted to avoid the terminal open to the public, fearing the reaction of the population.

Having not yet resigned, which he promised to do on Wednesday for a “peaceful transition of power”, Mr. Rajapaksa enjoys presidential immunity. He might want to take the opportunity to find refuge abroad.

The head of state and his wife spent the previous night at a military base near the international airport after missing four flights that could have taken them to the United Arab Emirates.

His younger brother Basil, who resigned as finance minister in April, also missed his flight to Dubai after a similar run-in with immigration.

– Cash –

Basil tried to use a paid concierge service for business travellers, but airport and immigration staff announced that the quick service was discontinued with immediate effect.

“Some other passengers protested against Basil boarding their flight,” an airport official told AFP. “It was a tense situation, so he left the airport in a hurry.”

Basil, who also has US citizenship, was due to apply for a new passport after leaving his in the presidential palace when the Rajapaksa family fled on Saturday in the face of an onslaught of thousands of protesters, according to a diplomatic source.

In this leak, the Sri Lankan president left behind a suitcase full of documents and 17.85 million rupees (49,000 euros) in cash, now under seal.

If the head of state resigns as promised, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will automatically be appointed interim president until parliament elects an MP who will hold office until the end of the current term, c i.e. November 2024.

Mr. Wickremesinghe is however also challenged by the demonstrators who camped in front of the Presidential Secretariat for more than three months to demand the resignation of the president because of the unprecedented economic crisis that the country is going through.

Mr. Rajapaksa is accused of having mismanaged the economy, leading to the inability of the country, in lack of foreign currency, to finance the most essential imports for this population of 22 million inhabitants.

Colombo defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.

Sri Lanka has almost exhausted its gasoline reserves. The government has ordered the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce travel and save fuel.