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Rediff.com  » News » Rajapaksa assumes charge as new Lankan PM amid 'bloodbath' warnings by speaker

Rajapaksa assumes charge as new Lankan PM amid 'bloodbath' warnings by speaker

October 29, 2018 23:12 IST

Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday assumed charge as Sri Lanka's new prime minister even as defiant Ranil Wickremesinghe asserted that he still commands the majority in parliament amid warning by the speaker that there could be "bloodbath" on the streets if the political crisis is not resolved immediately.

IMAGE: Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures during the ceremony to assume duties at the prime minister office in Colombo. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Rajapaksa assumed the duties in the prime minister's secretariat which was not used by the ousted prime minister Wickremesinghe.

President Maithripala Sirisena's new Cabinet was also sworn in and Rajapaksa was named the new minister of finance and economic affairs.

 

The new Cabinet was limited to just 12 ministers, one minister of state and one deputy minister.

Among the new ministers, three belonged to the ousted Wickremesinghe's United National Party who have defected.

The rest of the ministers are from Sirisena's previous Cabinet with Wickremesinghe who have been given same portfolios which they had handled under the unity government.

One new addition is from the northern district of Jaffna, Douglas Devananda, a Tamil who has been named the minister of resettlement, rehabilitation, northern development and Hindu religious affairs.

Devananda while in opposition had backed Wickremesinghe during the no trust motion in April which Wickremesinghe won to retain his premiership with support coming from Tamil and Muslim minority parties.

Arumugam Thondaman, representing the Tamils of Indian origin from central tea plantations, has been named the minister of hill country development.

President Sirisena on Friday night sacked Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa as the new prime minister in a surprise move that is being debated as a constitutional coup.

Sirisena also suspended parliament till November 16 after Wickremesinghe sought an emergency session to prove his majority.

Sri Lankan parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has warned that there could be "bloodbath" as some people were trying to resolve a power struggle between the president and his ousted premier on the streets.

Addressing reporters in Kandy, Jayasuriya said the issue should be resolved inside parliament. "Some are trying to settle this outside on the streets. If that is allowed there can be bloodshed, two (sic) people have died already, internationally the country will suffer damage," he said.

The crisis in Sri Lanka took a deadly turn on Sunday as violence broke out at the headquarters of state oil company Ceylon Petroleum, where Arjuna Ranatunga, petroleum minister in the ousted cabinet, tried to re-enter his office.

Cricket legend Ranatunga was arrested on Monday for the the incident.

Wickremesinghe, who continues to occupy his Temple Trees office cum residence of the prime minister, said on Monday that he commands the majority in parliament and it could be proved when the House is reconvened.

"No one can interfere with parliament," he said.

Responding to Sirisena's scathing criticism against him, Wickremesinghe said the charges were "stories that even a kid would not believe”.

"In the history of Sri Lanka, we never heard of a crisis situation like this. What happened last Friday was an illegal anti-constitutional and opportunistic act," Wickremesinghe said.

He said the solution now lies with parliament and it must be convened to resolve the conflict.

He said all political parties are standing firm to reestablish democracy. "We will never allow anti-constitutional dictatorship to rule this country," he said.

Sirisena in his address to the nation on Sunday said that Wickremesinghe was sacked due to his "arrogant" behaviour" and he completely destroyed the concept of good governance.

Sirisena had also accused the UNP leader of treating very lightly the alleged plot to assassinate him.

Responding to the president's remarks, Wickremesinghe alleged that Sirisena was talking of an assassination attempt to "cover up" his misdeed.

Wickremesinghe said restoring democracy freedoms, establishing right to information Act, independent commissions to depoliticise key areas of governance and establishing an unprecedented democratic culture were his government's achievements since 2015.

Sirisena is facing international pressure over his controversial decision to suspend parliament.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres and and the United States state department have called on the country's government to respect democratic values and constitutional provisions and process.

The political developments unfolded after Sirisena's broader political front United People's Freedom Alliance withdrew from the unity government with Wickremesinghe's UNP.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe joined hands to form a government of national unity in 2015 to bring in constitutional and governance reforms including a new Constitution to address the long-standing issues of the Tamil minority.

Wickremesinghe's UNP on Monday said that at least 128 MPs in the 225-member assembly have signed to call for an immediate reconvening of parliament.

Rajapaksa was defeated in the 2015 presidential election by Sirisena who had the backing of Wickremesinghe's UNP. After a unity government, the political relationship soured between the two, leading to Wickremesinghe's sacking by Sirisena.

Rajapaksa in his statement last night called for a snap parliamentary election to overcome the island nation's economic and political crisis.

The city of Colombo has been put under tight security with president Sirisena's official residence area being sealed off for normal traffic.

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