One man died and two others were injured when shots were fired on October 28 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 Maithripala Sirisena 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 told AFP.
It was the first report of serious violence since Mr. Sirisena sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe on on October 26 and installed a former strongman as the new Prime Minister, triggering political chaos in the Indian Ocean nation.
Mr. 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 Mr. Wickremesinghe has been holding crisis talks with allies.
Elsewhere his successor Mahinda Rajapaksa, 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 Mr. Rajapaksa said police will now seek a court order to evict Mr. 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Soldiers had been stationed near the Prime Minister’s residence — although his security and official cars were withdrawn on October 27 — but the shooting at the Petroleum Ministry was the first reported instance of violence breaking out.
The embattled Mr. Wickremesinghe received a boost on October 28 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”.
Mr. Wickremesinghe called for a vote in Parliament to prove his right to hold office — but instead Mr. Sirisena shut Parliament for nearly three weeks to forestall any challenge against Mr. Rajapaksa’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,” Karunarathna Paranawithana, a legislator from Mr. Wickremesinghe’s party told reporters at the Prime Minister’s residence. “If the President has the numbers he should immediately call Parliament and prove his majority.”
‘Wickremsinghe’s political conduct was unbecoming’
In his first address to the nation after the dramatic move to sack Mr. Wickremesinghe, Mr. Sirisena said that Mr. Wickremesinghe was sacked due to his “arrogant” behaviour, and asserted that Mr. Rajapaksa was made the new premier in strict accordance with the Constitution. Mr. Wickremsinghe’s political conduct since the victory in 2015 was unbecoming. “He appeared to treat Sri Lanka’s future as a joy ride for a coterie of people around him who had no sense of the common man’s thinking,” he said.
Loyalists to Mr. Rajapaksa — 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 October 28 in the central district of Kandy to seek blessings from monks.
Mr. Rajapaksa’s aides said he was likely to name a few Cabinet Ministers before the end of the day and begin work on October 29 — he is yet to make a formal statement since being elevated to the new post.
The strongman is seen as being closer to China than Mr. Wickremesinghe, who had sought to re-establish stronger ties with India.
China’s ambassador to Colombo met separately with Mr. Rajapaksa and Mr. Wickremesinghe on October 27, officials said, while Colombo-based Western diplomats met with Mr. Wickremesinghe.
Privately-run newspapers on October 28 described Mr. Sirisena’s move as a “constitutional coup”.
However, Rajapaksa loyalist and former Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said there was nothing illegal about sacking Mr. Wickremesinghe and challenged him to prove his majority when Parliament returns on November 16.
The falling out between Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Sirisena has come to a head since the President this year backed a no-confidence motion against the man he had handpicked to lead the government.
The two allied against Mr. Rajapaksa in the 2015 election, but their relationship steadily soured.
Mr. Sirisena initially said he would be a one-term President but has since indicated he will seek re-election next year — pitting himself against Mr. Wickremesinghe who also has presidential ambitions.
This is the second time that a President has ousted Mr. Wickremesinghe from office. In 2004, the then head of state sacked him and called snap elections.
After winning the premiership a third time in August 2015, Mr. Wickremesinghe amended the constitution to remove the President’s power to sack Prime Ministers to prevent a repeat of his earlier ouster.