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Politics

Chased out of Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa might return in two weeks

High costs of staying in Thailand has ex-president seeking to come home ASAP

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives at a Bangkok airport on Aug. 11.

COLOMBO (Reuters) -- Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa might return to Sri Lanka in about two weeks after fleeing a popular uprising in July, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday, partly depending on arrangements to secure his safety.

One of the sources said his return was partly linked to the costs of his stay in Thailand.

Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka in the early hours of July 13 after massive protests engulfed Colombo and demonstrators angry with the country's economic devastation stormed his official residence and office. He resigned as president after reaching Singapore, from where he later flew to Thailand.

Sri Lankan media had reported Rajapaksa could come back on Wednesday, but the sources said the arrival had been deferred as talks continue between the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the government over his security and other concerns.

"He definitely wants to come back. But security is the main issue and intelligence has advised that he delay his return," said one of the sources, a Sri Lankan government official.

"He may return in two weeks or even before that if arrangements for his safety can be made."

The second source said the high cost of his stay in Thailand was a factor in seeking a return home as soon as possible.

"The bill has now run to several hundred million rupees as it includes the cost for a private jet, a presidential suite and round-the-clock security," the source said. "The cost is becoming prohibitive."

The expenses are largely being borne by some of his supporters, according to another source close to the Rajapaksa family.

All the sources declined to be named discussing the affairs of a former president.

SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said the party had met President Ranil Wickremesinghe seeking arrangements for Rajapaksa's return.

"We have made the request for his return to be facilitated as soon as possible," Kariyawasam said.

Wickremesinghe told Reuters last week he was "not aware" of any plans for Rajapaksa's return. He also said any legal action against Rajapaksa would proceed in accordance with Sri Lanka's laws.

Anti-corruption body Transparency International says Sri Lanka has already approached the country's top court seeking "action against persons responsible for the current economic crisis," including two of Rajapaksa's brothers who were prime minister and finance minister under him.

As Sri Lanka tries to deal with one of its worst economic crises, a team from the International Monetary Fund will arrive on Wednesday for talks on a possible $3 billion bailout, which will include a debt restructuring framework.

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