COLOMBO   -   Bankrupt Sri Lanka’s deposed former presi­dent Gotabaya Raj­apaksa is expected to end his self-imposed exile in Thailand and return home on Sat­urday, a top defence official told AFP. The 73-year-old fled the island under military guard in July after a huge crowd stormed his official residence, following months of angry public protests blaming him for the island nation’s unprec­edented economic cri­sis. He issued his resig­nation from Singapore before flying onward 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 on Friday. “We are told he will return very ear­ly on Saturday.”

“We have just cre­ated a new security division to protect him after his return on Sat­urday. The unit com­prises elements from the army and police commandos.”

Sri Lanka’s constitu­tion guarantees body­guards, a vehicle and housing for former pres­idents. Rajapaksa trav­elled to Thailand after Singapore declined to extend his 28-day visa, but security authorities in Bangkok told him not to step out of his hotel for his own safety. 

The former president had a 90-day visa to re­main in Thailand, but opted to return with his wife, a bodyguard and another aide, the official said.

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.

“Basil Rajapaksa re­quested the president to make arrangements for the former president to return home,” their Sri Lanka Podujana Pera­muna (SLPP) party said in a statement. Sri Lanka has endured months of acute food, fuel and medicine shortages, lengthy blackouts and runaway inflation after running out of foreign currency to finance es­sential imports. The coronavirus pandemic was a hammer blow to the island’s tour­ism industry and dried up remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad -- both key for­eign exchange earners.