• Thursday, Dec 12, 2019
  • Last Update : 09:52 pm

Pressure mounts on Sri Lankan president as crisis turns violent

  • Published at 12:07 pm October 29th, 2018
Maithripala Sirisena-SRI LANKA-BRITAIN-POLITICS-INDEPENDENCE
File Photo: Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena addresses the nation during the Sri Lanka's 70th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on February 4, 2018 AFP

The US State Department on Sunday urged Sirisena to "immediately reconvene parliament" to allow legislators to quell the constitutional crisis sparked by his sacking on Friday of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

Pressure mounted on Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena to reconvene parliament on Monday after his shock dismissal of the prime minister and suspension of the assembly triggered a power struggle and clashes that claimed one life.

The US State Department on Sunday urged Sirisena to "immediately reconvene parliament" to allow legislators to quell the constitutional crisis sparked by his sacking on Friday of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sirisena later installed Mahinda Rajapakse, a controversial former strongman with close ties to China, as the new prime minister, unleashing political chaos in the Indian Ocean nation.

Wickremesinghe and his party are expected to ask the courts to have Sirisena’s action declared illegal, while neighbour and regional power India is pressuring Sirisena to restore parliament, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Wickremesinghe has refused to vacate the prime minister's official residence, barricading himself inside as over 1,000 supporters, including chanting Buddhist monks, rallied outside.

The 69-year-old says his sacking is illegal, and wants an emergency session of parliament held to prove he still commands a majority.

He received a boost on Sunday when Parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya refused to recognize his dismissal and asked the president to restore his privileges and security detail until another candidate could prove a majority in parliament.

Tensions remained high across the capital Colombo, with police leave cancelled and several legislators loyal to Wickremesinghe warning of street violence if the president did not immediately summon parliament.

Police said one man was killed and two were injured on Sunday when bodyguards for Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, a Wickremesinghe loyalist, fired at a mob that attempted to take him hostage.

Opposition leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan urged Jayasuriya to summon parliament immediately.

"I hereby call upon yourself to uphold the rule of law by summoning parliament... to perform its legitimate functions," said Sampanthan, who represents Sri Lanka's minority Tamil community. 

In a statement late Sunday, Rajapakse said his priority is to hold local council elections and also have a general election "as soon as possible." Parliamentary elections are not due until August 2020.

He said he wanted to "give the people the opportunity to vote for a program that will bring the country out of the all-encompassing economic, political and social crisis that it is now in."

Rajapakse's aides said he was due to formally begin work on Monday and name a cabinet later in the afternoon.