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    Bankrupt Sri Lanka’s deposed president ‘to return home’

    COLOMBO (AFP) – Bankrupt Sri Lanka’s deposed former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is expected to end his self-imposed exile in Thailand and return home imminently, a top defence official told AFP yesterday.

    The 73-year-old fled the island under military escort in July after crowds stormed his official residence, following months of angry demonstrations blaming him for the nation’s economic crisis.

    He issued his resignation from Singapore before flying to Bangkok, where he has been petitioning his successor to facilitate his return.

    “He has been living in a Thai hotel as a virtual prisoner and was keen to return,” the defence official, who asked not to be named, told AFP. “We have just created a new security division to protect him after his return. The unit comprises elements from the army and police commandos.”

    Sri Lanka’s constitution guarantees bodyguards, a vehicle and housing for former presidents.

    Rights activists said they would press for Rajapaksa’s arrest over a series of crimes, including his alleged role in the 2009 assassination of prominent newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

    “We welcome his decision to return so that we can bring him to justice,” said Sri Lanka Young Journalists’ Association spokesman Tharindu Jayawardhan. Rajapaksa’s resignation ended his presidential immunity, which could see the revival of stalled criminal cases against the former leader.

    He also faces charges in a California court over Wickrematunge’s murder and the torture of Tamil prisoners at the end of the island’s traumatic civil war in 2009.

    Rajapaksa travelled to Thailand last month, but authorities in Bangkok instructed him not to step out of his hotel for his own safety. Rajapaksa’s youngest brother, Basil, the former finance minister, met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe last month and requested protection to allow for the deposed leader’s return.

    Police deployed plainclothes officers and armed guards outside a government residence allocated to Rajapaksa in Colombo yesterday. Security at his private home was also stepped up, officials said.

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