A protester sits on a chair surrounded by others after storming the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office, demanding he resign after president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country amid economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image Credit: AP

Colombo: Sri Lanka's president left the Maldives Thursday aboard a plane bound for Singapore, an airport official said, a day after he escaped to the atoll nation.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife Ioma and their two bodyguards were escorted to the aircraft minutes before it took off from Velana International airport in Male, the official said

As president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest, and he is believed to have wanted to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.

Security sources in Colombo said Rajapaksa's resignation letter had already been prepared.

"No sooner he gives the green light, the Speaker will issue it," a source told AFP.

Earlier, Sri Lanka's anti-government protesters, who forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa from his official residence at the weekend, announced Thursday that they will vacate key buildings they have overrun.

"We are peacefully withdrawing from the Presidential Palace, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister's Office with immediate effect, but will continue our struggle," a spokeswoman said.

Troops in green military uniforms and camouflage vests arrived by armoured personnel carriers at the parliament building, anticipating more protests after a group attempted to storm the entrance the previous day, clashing with police who fended them off with tear gas and batons.

Some protesters posted videos on social media pleading with others not to storm the Parliament, fearing an escalation of violence.

A top Buddhist monk who has supported the protests had earlier called for the more than 200-years-old presidential palace to be handed back to authorities and ensure its valuable art and artefacts were preserved.

Lanka PM office colombo
Police walk at the lawn of the office building of Sri Lanka's prime minister in Colombo on July 13, 2022, a day after thousands of anti-government protesters stormed into Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office after he was named acting president. Image Credit: AFP

"This building is a national treasure and it should be protected," monk Omalpe Sobitha told reporters. "There must be a proper audit and the property given back to the state."

The curfew was lifted at dawn on Thursday before being reimposed in the capital later in the day.

Police said a soldier and a constable were injured in overnight clashes with protesters outside the national parliament.

The attempt on the legislature was beaten back, unlike at other locations where the protesters had spectacular success.

The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were admitted with injuries on Wednesday, with one man suffocating to death after being tear-gassed at the premier's office.

But student Chirath Chathuranga Jayalath, 26, said: "You cannot stop this protest by killing people. They'll shoot our heads but we do this from our hearts."

According to Maldivian media, Rajapaksa was jeered and insults thrown at him at Male airport on Wednesday, while another group staged a demonstration in the capital urging authorities not to allow him safe passage.

Maldivian media reported that he had spent the night at the Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi super luxury resort.

They contrasted the opulent accommodation with the economic plight of his compatriots - four out of five Sri Lankans skipping meals because of the country's dire economic crisis.

Rajapaksa is accused of mismanaging the economy to a point where the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people.

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

The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol with the government ordering the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

Diplomatic sources said Rajapaksa's attempts to secure a visa to the United States had been turned down because he had renounced his US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.