Thousands of angry Sri Lankans have marched through the streets of Colombo demanding the president resolve the country’s deepening political crisis that has resulted in the deaths of two people.
- Some observers say the political machinations have created a constitutional crisis
- Two people died and one was wounded in a shooting related to the political turmoil
- The ousted Prime Minister says his sacking was illegal and he retains Parliament’s support
More than 10,000 people, including politicians and rights activists, marched in support of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sacked along with his Cabinet by President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday.
The demonstration came just a day after Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya warned of possible violence if politicians were not summoned immediately.
The president has replaced Mr Wickremesinghe with strongman and former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr Sirisena suspended Parliament in an apparent move to give Mr Rajapaksa time to muster enough support to survive any no-confidence vote, followed by swearing in 12 Cabinet ministers, one state minister and a deputy minister.
The rest of the ministers will be appointed later, according to a presidential spokesman.
The moves have triggered a power struggle and some observers say it has created a constitutional crisis.
Demonstrators held placards reading “Let’s defeat dictatorship that undermines the constitution, restore democracy, uphold the constitution and convene Parliament to end crisis”.
Addressing the protesters, Mr Wickremesinghe said the president had used his executive powers against democracy.
“We are gathered here to safeguard democracy in the country,” he said.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the crisis should be quickly resolved by Parliament and added that he has already asked Mr Sirisena to summon lawmakers.
“Some are trying to resolve this matter in the streets. If that happens, a bloodbath could occur,” he said.
Two people died and one was wounded in a shooting on Sunday at the Petroleum Ministry, the first violence related to the political turmoil.
Sri Lanka’s sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe, centre, is adamant he should retain the position. (AP: Eranga Jayawardena)
Arjuna Ranatunga, who was petroleum minister under Mr Wickremesinghe, said one of his security guards opened fire when Rajapaksa supporters mobbed him and protested his entry to the ministry.
Police arrested Mr Ranatunga, a cricketer-turned politician, in connection with the shooting and later released him on bail, state television said. His security guard was arrested on Sunday.
Mr Wickremesinghe says his sacking was illegal and he is still prime minister, with the support of a majority of members of Parliament.
“The only way out of this crisis is to resolve who has the majority. Once Parliament is summoned, this issue can be resolved,” he said.
Mr Sirisena said he sacked Mr Wickremesinghe mainly because of the alleged involvement of a Cabinet minister in a plot to assassinate him.
A police informant named Namal Kumara told reporters on Sunday that Mr Wickremesinghe and a Cabinet colleague, former army commander Sarath Fonseka, were behind the alleged plot.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has been warned to resolve the crisis quickly. (AP: Eranga Jayawardena)
Police are investigating the reports, but no arrests have been made.
One of the demonstrators, 59-year-old farmer Cyril Ranasinghe, said that the dismissal of Mr Wickremesinghe was a “very indecent and anti-democratic move”.
“We voted him to power and we will struggle and make sure that he will go home soon,” he said.
Another demonstrator, researcher Edward Udayadas, said he joined the protest because he wants democracy.
“This move is unconstitutional. We want justice. I am here as a Sri Lanka citizen to protect democracy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Rajapaksa supporters have demanded that Mr Wickremesinghe vacate his official residence or face forced eviction.
Tensions had been building between the President and the Prime Minister — who come from different sides of the political spectrum — over economic reforms.
And in April, Mr Wickremesinghe had survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament brought by supporters of Mr Rajapaksa, a divisive figure who brought Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war to a bloody end in 2009.