Sacked Sri Lankan PM’s residence becomes symbol of power struggle

COLOMBO: The banquet hall at Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister’s official residence is packed with supporters — many sleeping on chairs and the floor — who have come to stand guard as he tussles for power with an old rival.
Thousands of loyalists from across the country are camped out at the Temple Trees residence in Colombo, a colonial-era bungalow where Ranil Wickremesinghe has been holed up since his shock dismissal more than a week ago.
Day and night they top up coconut oil lamps and keep jasmine-perfumed incense sticks burning in the 5,000-capacity banquet hall — usually reserved for state dinners and VIP weddings — while the 69-year-old plots his next move.
President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe on October 26 but he has refused to accept the decision or to leave the residence so former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse — who was named in his place — can move in.
S M Faheed, a 73-year-old diehard supporter of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), vowed to stay there until the constitutional crisis is resolved.
“I will not leave until Ranil is given the PM’s chair,” Faheed said. “We are here to support him and make sure no one tries to throw him out of Temple Trees.”
“If I have to, I will stay here till I die.”
Wickremesinghe has asked lawmakers to vote to decide between him and Rajapakse and end the crisis, but parliament has been suspended since his sacking.
“If I win… (Rajapakse) must stand down. If he wins, I will leave Temple Trees and move away,” Wickremesinghe said on Friday.
But he will have trouble convincing his followers to give way.
Shakuntala Devi travelled 400 kilometres from the Tamil city of Jaffna in the north of the country to join the crowd that grows each day.
Volunteers bring meals to Devi and others while Buddhist monks chant prayers that are broadcast on a public address system within the premises.
Devi said she wanted to show solidarity after Wickremesinghe’s government built 5,000 homes for people like her who were displaced by the civil war that ended in 2009. — AFP