Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down as party boss

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa has agreed to step down as head of his party, clearing the way for the country's new president to take full control, an aide said on Thursday.

President Maithripala Sirisena had been the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), but was kicked out of the party ahead of elections after he broke away from Mr Rajapaksa in November to become the common opposition candidate.

Mr Sirisena, who toppled the long-time strongman in last week's polls, claimed the party leadership following the vote, but Mr Rajapaksa's loyalists initially refused to back him, threatening to split the party. "He (Rajapakse) met with President Sirisena on Wednesday night and discussed the future of the SLFP," the aide told AFP. "It was decided that at a (policy making) central committee meeting on Friday, Mr. Sirisena will be confirmed as the new leader of the party."

Mr Sirisena's election bid was backed by a coalition of opposition parties after he defected from the Rajapaksa government while serving as health minister to run for president. Party sources said his expulsion from the SLFP, however, had never been ratified.

Sources close to the new government said Mr Sirisena was trying to forge a national unity administration before calling fresh parliamentary elections by the end of April.

The government has lodged a formal complaint with the police Criminal Investigations Department into allegations that Mr Rajapaksa tried to use military force to remain in power after losing last week's election.

The former president, who has denied the claim, also faces accusations of misuse of public funds and nepotism.

Mr Rajapaksa's family stands accused of amassing huge wealth during his 10-year rule.

The police say they are investigating the disappearance of a fleet of luxury presidential cars as he vacated his official residence.

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