Thursday 19 September 2019

Chaos in Sri Lankan parliament as angry legislators halt proceedings

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya adjourned the house until Monday.

Sri Lanka’s lawmakers scuffle at the parliament in Colombo (AP Photo)
Sri Lanka’s lawmakers scuffle at the parliament in Colombo (AP Photo)

By Bharatha Mallawarachi, Associated Press

Pandemonium reigned in Sri Lanka’s parliament as legislators supporting disputed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa violently demonstrated in the house to prevent proceedings from taking place on Friday.

The chaotic scenes erupted the day after a fierce brawl between rival legislators.

They threw books and chairs at police who escorted house speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the chamber and did not allow him to sit in the speaker’s chair.

Mr Jayasuriya, using a microphone, adjourned the house until Monday.

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Ranil Wickremesinghe addresses supporters in Colombo (Rukmal Gamage/AP)

Members loyal to Mr Rajapaksa heckled and continued to hurl abuse at Mr Jayasuriya until he left the chamber. Arundika Fernando, a legislator allied with Mr Rajapaksa, sat in the speaker’s chair while others surrounded him shouting slogans.

On Thursday, rival members exchanged blows, leaving one injured, after the speaker announced there was no prime minister or government following Wednesday’s no-confidence motion against Mr Rajapaksa.

The disputed PM insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and continued in his role.

Sri Lanka has been in political crisis since October 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed the former strongman Mr Rajapaksa.

Mr Wickremsinghe says he has majority support in the house.

Mr Rajapaksa, a former president, is considered a hero by some in the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing ethnic Tamil Tiger rebels, but his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.

Tensions had been building between Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister.

Mr Sirisena has also accused Mr Wickremesinghe and another cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Mr Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

On Thursday, the president held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties that voted for the no-confidence motion against Mr Rajapaksa.

Mr Sirisena asked that parliament take up the motion again, striking the part that condemned Mr Wickremesinghe’s removal and Mr Rajapaksa’s appointment as unconstitutional, to allow it to be debated and a roll-call vote to be taken.

PA Media

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