Sri Lanka crisis turns violent as one killed at ex-minister's office

World Sunday 28/October/2018 19:05 PM
By: Times News Service
Sri Lanka crisis turns violent as one killed at ex-minister's office

Colombo: A political crisis in Sri Lanka took a deadly turn on Sunday, with one person killed when a sacked cabinet minister tried to re-enter his office, days after the president removed the prime minister and installed a powerful ally of China in his place.
Sri Lanka has been plunged into crisis since Friday, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and swore in ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister to replace him.
Sirisena said the move was motivated by a plot to kill him, and by economic collapse. Wickremesinghe says it was illegal and he is still prime minister.
In a statement released late on Sunday, Rajapaksa, who ruled as president from 2005-2015, said he would "eschew the politics of hate and set up an interim government that will protect the human rights of all citizens, that will protect the independence of the judiciary and establish law and order."
He called on lawmakers to support his new government.
On Saturday, Sirisena suspended parliament until November 16, a move the ousted prime minister's supporters say was intended to prevent lawmakers from demonstrating their continued support for Wickremesinghe.
The standoff has important geopolitical implications in a country long influenced by its neighbour India, but which became massively indebted to China to finance huge infrastructure projects during Rajapaksa's decade as president.
Most of Sri Lanka's foreign allies including India, the European Union and the United States, have urged Sirisena to abide by the constitution. But China, long seen as a supporter of Rajapaksa, congratulated him on becoming prime minister, drawing accusations from Wickremesinghe's supporters that Beijing was behind the attempt to change the government. Chinese officials deny interfering in Sri Lanka's affairs.
Since Rajapaksa was sworn in, trade unions allied to him have blocked government buildings to prevent members of the former cabinet from reaching their offices.
Sunday's violence took place at the headquarters of state oil company Ceylon Petroleum Corp, where Arjuna Ranatunga, petroleum minister in the ousted cabinet, tried to re-enter his office. Police said one of Ranatunga's security guards opened fire. One person was killed and two wounded.
The guard had been arrested and an investigation launched, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said. Ranatunga was safe and the security guard's motive was not immediately clear, he added.
Local media said Ranatunga had briefly been held hostage in the office. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm details of the incident.
So far, a majority of lawmakers has not endorsed the change in government. In a letter sent on Sunday, parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya urged the president to protect Wickremesinghe's rights and privileges "until any other person emerges from within the Parliament as having secure confidence of the Parliament".
In an address to the nation, Sirisena said his action to change the government was "totally in accordance with the constitution and on the advice of legal experts".
The Rajapaksa faction has sought to win over lawmakers to back it in parliament. Two Wickremesinghe loyalists have pledged support to Rajapaksa and sources close to Rajapaksa have said there will be more cross-overs.
Ranjan Ramanayake, a legislator from Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP), said some lawmakers had been offered up to 800 million rupees ($4.6 million) each to switch sides and support Rajapaksa. Reuters was unable to confirm this.