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Sri Lanka’s sacked PM: Time running out to avert ‘bloodbath’

3 November 2018 10:39

Sri Lanka’s sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned that a power struggle could imminently turn into a “bloodbath”, while expressing hope that parliament will resolve a constitutional crisis soon.

“A few desperate people can start off a bloodbath,” he warned, echoing fears of parliament speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, who said earlier this week that the crisis could turn into a “huge bloodshed” on the streets if a vote is not held by lawmakers to decide between the two leaders.

Wickremesinghe has been holed up at the prime minister’s official residence for more than a week. Thousands of supporters gathered outside the residence.

The power struggle that some observers say has created a constitutional crisis – and has already sparked protests and deadly violence – was triggered when Wickremesinghe was suddenly dismissed from power on October 26.

President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly ousted him and his cabinet, suspended the parliament until November 16 and appointed the man he had once ousted from the presidency, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the new premier, replacing Wickremesinghe.

Sirisena lambasted Wickremesinghe, saying they could not work together because of serious personal and cultural differences. The sacked prime minister said his ouster was illegal.

Supporters of Sri Lanka’s sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gather outside the prime ministers official residence in the capital Colombo, October 30, 2018. (Photo by AP)

Rajapaksa is a controversial Buddhist nationalist, who is said to be the most popular politician in the country. He is the same man against whom Sirisena and Wickremasingh formed a surprise coalition in 2015 presidential elections.

Wickremesinghe said he hoped the showdown could be ended peacefully and expressed optimism that a solution to the crisis would soon be found.

“We will be calling on our people not to resort to violence,” he said late Friday. “But you don’t know what arises in a situation like this.”

Wickramasinghe, who is also the head of the United National Party, the biggest group in parliament, has called for a vote and is trying to rally allies to the cause.

“I feel parliament is going to prevail finally. This can’t take too long. I would say in a week to 10 days at the most,” said Wickramasinghe, adding the priority was to establish parliament’s “supremacy.”

He said two smaller parties — the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Tamil National Alliance — were backing his call for the legislature to meet despite obstacles placed by the president.

The two parties signed a petition to the parliament speaker on Friday demanding the reconvening of the 225-member assembly on November 7.

“A majority of parliament has said all these actions (of the president) are not legitimate and not in accordance with the constitution,” said the ousted PM.

Sri Lankan newly appointed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa waves to people in Colombo on October 312018. (Photo by AP)

President Sirisena, however, has so far been resisting calls to recall the parliament. He already swore in Rajapaksa as well as 12 ministers, one state minister and a deputy minister. According to his spokesman Dharma Sri Ekanayake, the rest of the ministers will be appointed later.

The constitutional crisis is closely being watched by the world as well as regional rivals India and China. The US has called on the president to immediately reconvene parliament to allow MPs to pick a prime minister.

India, Sri Lanka’s traditional ally and a modest investor in power and railway projects in the country, calls for “the constitutionally elected government to be reinstated to not only ensure stability of the south Asian region, but also sovereignty and prosperity of the country.”

China, however, has sent a different message, saying Colombo had “enough wisdom” to resolve the issue internally.

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