One dead in Sri Lanka shooting as constitutional crisis escalates

COLOMBO: One man died and two others were injured when shots were fired on Sunday in Sri Lanka, as a constitutional crisis over the shock sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe turned violent.
Bodyguards for Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga fired live rounds as a mob loyal to Sri Lanka’s president 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, hospital spokeswoman Pushpa Soysa said.
It was the first report of serious violence since Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe on Friday and installed former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse as the new prime minister, triggering political chaos.
Wickremesinghe has refused to vacate the prime minister’s official residence since being controversially deposed, declaring his dismissal illegal and demanding an emergency session of parliament to prove he still commands a majority.
Over 1,000 supporters and loyalists, including chanting Buddhist monks, massed outside the colonial-era residence in Colombo where a defiant Wickremesinghe has been holding crisis talks with allies.
Elsewhere his successor Mahinda Rajapakse, a former president, sought blessings at a temple ahead of naming a new cabinet, as he jostles to consolidate his claim to the prime ministership. Officials loyal to Rajapakse said police will now seek a court order to evict Wickremesinghe from the residence, threatening to escalate the standoff.
Regional neighbours and Western nations have urged all sides to exercise restraint and respect the constitution.
Soldiers had been stationed near the prime minister’s residence — although his security and official cars were withdrawn on Saturday — but the shooting at the petroleum ministry was the first reported instance of violence breaking out.
Embattled Wickremesinghe received a boost on Sunday as Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker Karu Jayasuriya refused to endorse his sacking.
The speaker backed the ousted prime minister’s request to retain his privileges and security until another candidate could prove a majority, saying it was “democratic and fair.”
Wickremesinghe called for a vote in parliament to prove his right to hold office — but instead Sirisena shut parliament for nearly three weeks to forestall any challenge against Rajapakse’s appointment.
Speaker Jayasuriya warned the president that shuttering parliament risked “serious and undesirable consequences for the country”.
Others feared the crisis could degenerate into street violence if the president did not immediately summon parliament to end the impasse.
“Don’t try to create a civil war in this country,” party legislator Karunarathna Paranawithana told reporters at the prime minister’s residence.
“If the president has the numbers, he should immediately call parliament and prove his majority.”
Loyalists to Rajapakse — whose controversial decade-long rule was marked by grave allegations of rights abuses, the crushing of the Tamil Tiger uprising, and growing authoritarianism — still control the headquarters of two state-run television channels.
The controversial new prime minister travelled to a highly venerated Buddhist temple on Sunday in the central district of Kandy to seek blessings from monks.
Rajapakse’s aides said he was likely to name a few cabinet ministers before the end of the day and begin work on Monday — he is yet to make a formal statement since being elevated to the new post.
— AFP