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Sri Lanka: weeks of political crisis

AFP – Sri Lanka’s political crisis deepened Friday after its president dissolved parliament, clearing the way for a snap election nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Here is an overview of the drama unfolding in the Indian Ocean island nation since October 26.

– Sudden sacking –

In a surprise move, President Maithripala Sirisena’s office announces on October 26 that he has sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe, the prime minister, with whom he has ruled in coalition since 2015. 

Moments later the new premier is named — former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse, who is shown on television being sworn in during a rushed ceremony.

The shock dismissal comes after disagreements between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe over economic policy as well as day-to-day government administration.

Rajapakse is highly controversial, having ruled with an iron fist as president from 2005 to 2015, with his government accused of corruption and murdering political opponents.

During his term, a decades-old Tamil Tiger separatist struggle was stamped out in 2009 through a military assault that killed up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians.

– PM refuses to budge –

Wickremesinghe hits back that his sacking is not legal and vows to fight it in court.

After winning the premiership a third time in August 2015, Wickremesinghe had overseen a constitutional amendment that removed the head of state’s power to sack prime ministers.

Overnight on October 26 to 27, Rajapakse loyalists storm two state-owned television networks which they regard as loyal to the outgoing government and force them off the air. 





– Parliament suspended –

On October 27 Wickremesinghe demands an emergency session of parliament so he can prove his majority.

Sirisena responds by suspending the assembly until November 16.

Police cancel all leave as tensions mount in Colombo, where Wickremesinghe continues to occupy the official prime minister’s residence at Temple Trees.

Ambassadors from India, US and European nations call for the rivals to respect the constitution.

– ‘Constitutional coup’ –

On October 28 privately run newspapers describe Sirisena’s move as a "constitutional coup".

Parliamentary speaker Karu Jayasuriya says he recognises Wickremesinghe as the country’s lawful prime minister, until another candidate can prove a majority in parliament.

The sacked prime minister ignores a deadline to vacate Temple Trees, where supporters and chanting monks stand guard, with soldiers deployed nearby.

– Violence erupts –

Later the same day bodyguards for petroleum minister Arjuna Ranatunga, who is allied to Wickremesinghe, open fire inside a government ministry as a mob loyal to Sirisena besieges his office. 

A 34-year-old man is killed and two other people are injured. 

On October 29 Wickremesinghe says his sacking has left the country in a power vacuum while Speaker Jayasuriya warns of a potential "bloodbath".

Police arrest Ranatunga after trade unions accuse him of ordering the previous day’s shooting.

Sirisena appoints a 12-member cabinet giving the powerful finance portfolio to Rajapakse.

– Backtracking, rival rallies  –

Sirisena lifts the suspension of parliament on November 1, but in a U-turn hours later his party insists it will remain suspended.

The next day Jayasuriya summons parliament to meet the following week in a bid to end the feud.

On November 4 Sirisena announces parliament will reconvene on November 14. 

A day later busloads of Rajapakse supporters head to Colombo to show their support in a rally near parliament. 

On November 8 hundreds of cars carrying supporters of Wickremesinghe bring chaos to the capital’s streets as they call for parliament to be reopened.

– Parliament dissolved –

But the next day Sirisena dissolves the 225-member parliament, hours after his party announces he does not have a majority to get his prime minister nominee through the legislature.

A snap election will be held on January 5, he announces.

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