It appears that the president has attempted to follow several avenues of escape in recent days but all have proved futile. The Indian government reportedly refused permission for a Sri Lankan military plane carrying the president to land at an Indian civilian airport, while the US embassy refused to grant him a visitor visa, according to US embassy sources who spoke to local media.
Rajapaksa, who lived in the US for years and has a son and grandchild there, gave up his dual US citizenship in order to run for president, which means he is now ineligible for a visitor visa.
According to officials who spoke to Agence France-Presse, Rajapaksa was now considering using a navy patrol craft to try to flee the island, to either the Maldives or India and then on to Dubai, and he and his entourage had left the military base in two helicopters on Tuesday and headed to the port of Trincomalee.
While he is still president, Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest. It is believed he wants to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained. He is accused of overseeing corruption and economic mismanagement that have bankrupted the country and triggered the worst financial crisis on record.
He has also been accused of war crimes, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, during his time as defence minister, when he brought the civil war, fought against the Tamil minority, to a bloody end in 2009. For more than a decade the allegations against him have been prevented from reaching the courts.
The president was not the only member of the family unsuccessfully trying to flee. His younger brother Basil Rajapaksa, who served as finance minister and has also been accused of widespread corruption, was prevented from boarding a flight to the US via Dubai on Tuesday morning after other passengers protested.
Airport staff refused to let him use the fast-track concierge service and stopped him getting on the flight. According to airport officials, as the situation grew tense, Basil Rajapaksa, who has dual US citizenship, retreated.