Chaos has erupted in Sri Lanka’s parliament as legislators supporting disputed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books and chairs to try to block proceedings a day after a brawl between rivals worsened political turmoil in the nation.
Police who escorted speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the chamber held boards around him to protect him from being hit by the angry Rajapaksa loyalists, who did not allow him to sit in the speaker’s chair.
Several opposition legislators and policemen were wounded.
Mr Jayasuriya, using a microphone, conducted proceedings while standing on the floor of parliament, which for the second time passed a no-confidence motion against Mr Rajapaksa and his government by a voice vote. Mr Jayasuriya then adjourned the house until Monday.
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 shouted slogans.
Opposition member R Sampathan accused Rajapaksa loyalists of preventing a roll-call vote on the motion, as requested by President Maithripala Sirisena.
On Thursday, Mr Sirisena held an emergency meeting with the leaders of opposition parties that voted for the first no-confidence motion against Mr Rajapaksa and asked them to take up the motion again and allow it to be debated and then put to a roll-call vote.
The president held the meeting following the chaos in parliament on Thursday, when rivals exchanged blows, leaving one injured, after the speaker announced the country had no prime minister or government because of Wednesday’s no-confidence motion against Mr Rajapaksa.
The disputed PM has refused to accept the no-confidence motion, also saying it should not have been done by voice vote. He insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and said he is continuing in his role.
Sri Lanka has been in a political crisis since October 26 when Mr Sirisena abruptly sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mr Rajapaksa. Mr Wickremsinghe says he still has the support of a majority in parliament.
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.