Sacked Sri Lankan PM stays put as crisis deepens

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe (above) has declared his dismissal illegal and refused to vacate the prime minister's official residence. Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa (right, with red scarf), seen here arriving at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic i
Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa (with red scarf), seen here arriving at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy yesterday, has been named prime minister.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He demands Parliament vote to prove he still holds majority as violence erupts in Colombo

COLOMBO • Sri Lanka's sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resisted moves to evict him from his official residence yesterday, defiantly summoning allies for a crisis meeting as a thousand supporters stood guard.

Mr Wickremesinghe has refused to vacate the prime minister's official residence since being controversially deposed last Friday, declaring his dismissal illegal and demanding an emergency session of Parliament to prove he still commands a majority.

A thousand-strong crowd of supporters, including chanting Buddhist monks, has massed outside the colonial-era residence in Colombo.

The country's Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya yesterday recognised Mr Wickremesinghe as the lawful prime minister, three days after the sacking threw the Indian Ocean island into constitutional chaos.

Mr Jayasuriya backed Mr Wickremesinghe's request to retain the privileges and security of prime minister until another candidate could prove a majority.

"I consider the said request to be a democratic and fair request," the Speaker said in a letter addressed to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Officials said police will now seek a court order to evict Mr Wickremesinghe from the residence, threatening to escalate the stand-off.

 
 

All police leave was cancelled amid heightened tensions in Colombo, with soldiers seen near the prime minister's residence as well as the president's office, but there was no sign of an intervention.

Meanwhile, one man died and two others were injured yesterday when shots were fired in what was the first report of serious violence since the shock sacking triggered political chaos.

Bodyguards for former petroleum minister Arjuna Ranatunga fired live rounds as a mob loyal to Mr Sirisena besieged the Cabinet member in his office, police said.

One of those shot in the melee, a 34-year-old man, died shortly after being admitted to the Colombo National, said hospital spokesman Pushpa Soysa.

Mr Wickremesinghe's security and official cars were withdrawn by Mr Sirisena last Saturday as the ousted prime minister called for a vote in Parliament to prove his right to hold office.

Instead, Mr Sirisena shut Parliament for nearly three weeks to forestall any challenge against former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa's prime ministership appointment.

Loyalists of Mr Rajapaksa, whose decade-long rule was marked by grave allegations of rights abuses and growing authoritarianism, still control the headquarters of two state-run television channels.

The former leader travelled to a highly venerated Buddhist temple in the central district of Kandy to seek blessings from monks.

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe (above) has declared his dismissal illegal and refused to vacate the prime minister's official residence. Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa (right, with red scarf), seen here arriving at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic i
Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe (above) has declared his dismissal illegal and refused to vacate the prime minister's official residence. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A controversial figure at home and abroad, Mr Rajapaksa presided over the crushing of the decades-long Tamil Tiger uprising.

He is seen as being closer to China than Mr Wickremesinghe, who had sought to re-establish stronger ties with traditional ally and regional power India.

The crisis has again put the Indian Ocean in the international spotlight, following turmoil in neighbouring Maldives over its presidential election. Regional neighbours and Western nations have urged all sides to exercise restraint and to respect the Constitution.

India said it was closely following events in Colombo. "As a democracy and a close friendly neighbour, we hope that democratic values and the constitutional process will be respected," said India's Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar yesterday.

The United States and European Union ambassadors in Colombo have called on the Sri Lankan rivals to abide by the Constitution and avoid violence. China's ambassador to Colombo Cheng Xueyuan met Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Wickremesinghe separately last Saturday, officials said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2018, with the headline 'Sacked Sri Lankan PM stays put as crisis deepens'. Print Edition | Subscribe