Sri Lanka Parliamentary Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Monday said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not left the country and added that media speculation that he has fled the crisis-hit country was sparked due to a "mistake" made by the Speaker during an interview.
His office said, "This was (speculated) after a mistake made by Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena who had said he had left the country but would be back by Wednesday to offer his resignation. Abeywardena later corrected the mistake."
Gotabaya left his residence in capital Colombo on Friday —a day before protesters broke in and occupied it— and he has since been at an unknown location.
Abeywardena earlier announced that Gotabaya has said he would resign on July 13. In a separate announcement, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said he would resign in favour of an all-party government. Their resignations were key demands of protesters who blame them for failure of drive the country out of the worst financial crisis in its history.
Even as Gotabaya's whereabouts are unknown, the Presidential Secretariat has been issuing the President’s statements.
Abeywardena, who is now tipped to be the acting president once Gotabaya resigns on Wednesday, told BBC World Service that the Gotabaya is staying "somewhere outside…in a nearby country".
He had added, "He will come back on Wednesday, he will be there. He told me that he will be stepping down on July 13."
Abeywardena later said he could not divulge Gotabaya's exact location for security reasons.
However, within a few hours, Abeywardena retracted his statement and said he had mistakenly told the BBC that Gotabaya was out of the country.
The Parliament has made all arrangements to elect a successor in terms of the procedure, the Speaker’s office said.
Gotabaya is speculated to be spending time at a Sri Lanka Naval facility, according to sources.
Sri Lanka is going through its worst financial crisis, which has led to a political crisis as well, as people have been protesting for months against the government for failure to tackle the crisis. The anger is directed particularly the Rajapaksa family, which dominated the country's politics until the cookie crumbled.
The crisis has left millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials, as prices have skyrocketed in recent months and there is shortage of essentials such as cooking gas, vehicular fuel, foodstuff, etc.
Schools have been suspended and fuel has been limited to essential services. Patients are unable to travel to hospitals due to the fuel shortage and food prices are soaring.
In several major cities, including Colombo, hundreds are forced to stand in line for hours to buy fuel, sometimes clashing with police and the military as they wait.
The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly $7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about $25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at $51 billion.
(With PTI inputs)