Sri Lanka president suspends parliament amid political crisis

Colombo: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena suspended parliament on Saturday to forestall a challenge against his surprise ouster of the prime minister, deepening a sudden swell of political turmoil in the island nation.
Police cancelled all leave as tensions heightened in Colombo a day after the president’s dismissal of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was replaced by controversial former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse.
Parliamentary officials said the president had suspended the 225-member parliament until November 16. Wickremesinghe had earlier demanded an emergency session to prove he still commanded a majority.
Wickremesinghe continued to occupy Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister, and insisted in a letter to Sirisena that he was still in office.
“Get this controversy out of the way,” Wickremesinghe told reporters in a press conference at the residence. “Reconvene parliament immediately so that I can prove my majority.”
Parliamentary sources said Speaker Karu Jayasuriya would now have to decide if he recognised Rajapakse or Wickremesinghe as the prime minister. The crisis, which follows similar turmoil in the neighbouring Maldives, has stirred international concern.
The United States called on all sides to abide by Sri Lanka’s constitution and refrain from violence. European Union ambassadors in Colombo issued a similar message on Saturday.
Regional power India was also “closely watching” developments in Colombo, official sources in New Delhi said.
Earlier, Rajapakse loyalists stormed two state-owned television networks — which they regard as loyal to Wickremesinghe’s outgoing government — and forced them off the air. They resumed broadcasting on Saturday and were supporting Rajapakse.
There were reports of sporadic attacks against supporters of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party in several parts of the country after Rajapakse was sworn in late on Friday.
The streets of the capital remained mainly calm on Saturday but security was tightened around Temple Trees and Rajapakse’s residence.
Wickremesinghe, 69, who trained as a lawyer and has established a name for his management of the economy, insisted that he can be removed only by parliament.
His party has the largest number of seats but lost its majority shortly before his dismissal on Friday, when the president’s United People’s Freedom Alliance announced it was walking out of the governing coalition. This is the second time that a president has ousted Wickremesinghe from office.
In 2004, just two and a half years into a six-year term, the then president sacked him and called snap elections.
After winning the premiership a third time in August 2015, Wickremesinghe amended the constitution to remove the head of state’s power to sack prime ministers to prevent a repeat of his earlier ouster. — AFP