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One dead in Sri Lanka shooting as political crisis escalates

One dead in Sri Lanka shooting  as political crisis escalates
Supporters of Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa are pushed by members of the Special Task Force and police in Colombo on Sunday. (Reuters)
Colombo, Oct 28 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 10/28/2018 11:39:26 AM IST

Sri Lanka police said one person died and two others were injured on Sunday when shots were fired in Colombo, as a constitutional crisis sparked by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s shock sacking turned violent, News 18 reported.

Bodyguards for Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga fired live rounds at a mob loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena after the group tried to take the cabinet member hostage, police said. It was the first report of serious violence since Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe on Friday and installed former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse as the new prime minister, triggering political chaos.

On Sunday, Wickremesinghe resisted moves to evict him from his official residence, defiantly summoning allies for a crisis meeting as a thousand supporters stood guard.

Wickremesinghe, who says his shock dismissal on Friday was illegal, ignored a deadline to vacate the colonial-era residence, even as his controversial successor sought blessings at a prominent temple ahead of naming a new cabinet.

Officials said police will now seek a court order to evict Wickremesinghe, 69, threatening to escalate the standoff as neighbours and Western nations asked all sides to exercise restraint and respect the constitution.

Wickremesinghe’s security and official cars were withdrawn by President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday, as the ousted prime minister demanded an emergency session to prove he still commanded a majority in parliament.

Instead, Sirisena shut parliament for nearly three weeks to forestall any challenge against his appointment of former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister.

Loyalists to Rajapaksa, whose decade-long rule was marked by grave allegations of rights abuses and growing authoritarianism, still control the headquarters of two state-run television channels.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa travelled to a highly venerated Buddhist temple in the central district of Kandy to seek blessings from monks before naming a cabinet.

Rajapaksa’s aides said he was likely to name a few cabinet ministers later Sunday and begin work on Monday. 

He is yet to make a formal statement or address the nation since being elevated to the new post.

The former strongman is a controversial figure at home and abroad and presided over the crushing of a decades-long Tamil Tiger uprising. He is seen as being closer to China than Wickremesinghe, who had sought to re-establish stronger ties with traditional ally and regional power India.

Amid the political turmoil, Chinese President Xi Jinping has emerged as one of the first world leaders to congratulate Rajapaksa. “China’s Ambassador to #SriLanka Cheng Xueyuan called on newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier today to convey congratulatory wishes from Chinese President Xi Jinping,” Rajapaksa himself tweeted, along with a picture.

The falling out between Wickremesinghe and 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 Rajapaksa in the 2015 election, but their relationship steadily soured.

Sirisena initially said he would be a one-term president but has since indicated he will seek re-election next year, pitting himself against Wickremesinghe who also has presidential ambitions.

Wickremesinghe’s party has the largest number of parliamentary seats, but the president’s United People’s Freedom Alliance walked out of the coalition shortly before Wickremesinghe was sacked.

This is the second time that a president has ousted Wickremesinghe from office. In 2004, 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.

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