Sacked Sri Lankan PM’s residence becomes symbol of power struggle

Supporters of ousted Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shout slogans during a protest against his removal, near the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo. (AFP)
Updated 04 November 2018
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Sacked Sri Lankan PM’s residence becomes symbol of power struggle

  • President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe on October 26 but he has refused to accept the decision or to leave the residence
  • Wickremesinghe has asked lawmakers to vote to decide between him and Rajapaksa and end the crisis, but parliament has been suspended since his sacking

COLOMBO: The banquet hall at Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister’s official residence is packed with supporters — many sleeping on chairs and the floor — who have come to stand guard as he tussles for power with an old rival.
Thousands of loyalists from across the country are camped out at the Temple Trees residence in Colombo, a colonial-era bungalow where Ranil Wickremesinghe has been holed up since his shock dismissal more than a week ago.
Day and night they top up coconut oil lamps and keep jasmine-perfumed incense sticks burning in the 5,000-capacity banquet hall — usually reserved for state dinners and VIP weddings — while the 69-year-old plots his next move.
President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe on October 26 but he has refused to accept the decision or to leave the residence so former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapaksa — who was named in his place — can move in.
S.M. Faheed, a 73-year-old diehard supporter of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), vowed to stay there until the constitutional crisis is resolved.
“I will not leave until Ranil is given the PM’s chair,” Faheed said. “We are here to support him and make sure no one tries to throw him out of Temple Trees.”
“If I have to, I will stay here till I die.”
Wickremesinghe has asked lawmakers to vote to decide between him and Rajapaksa and end the crisis, but parliament has been suspended since his sacking.
“If I win... (Rajapaksa) must stand down. If he wins, I will leave Temple Trees and move away,” Wickremesinghe told AFP on Friday.
But he will have trouble convincing his followers to give way.
Shakuntala Devi traveled 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the Tamil city of Jaffna in the north of the country to join the crowd that grows each day.
Volunteers bring meals to Devi and others while Buddhist monks chant prayers that are broadcast on a public address system within the premises.
Devi said she wanted to show solidarity after Wickremesinghe’s government built 5,000 homes for people like her who were displaced by the civil war that ended in 2009.
“I came to show my gratitude to the prime minister,” she said.
Another protester who gave her name as Sandya said: “We want to tell Sirisena: If you have any shame, call parliament and let our leader take back his seat.”
Others in the huge crowd echoed her views, with one person saying Sri Lanka had “become the laughing stock of the world.”
“Sirisena is the most ungrateful man. May he be cursed and be struck by lightning,” said Jayanthi Jayewardena, an elderly supporter.
Sirisena won the presidency from Rajapaksa in 2015 with the help of Wickremesinghe and his UNP. The two formed a coalition, but have since fallen out badly.
Matters came to a head with the sacking, which Wickremesinghe acknowledged had surprised him.
Sirisena has cut Wickremesinghe’s official bodyguard retinue and pool of limousines. A depleted plain clothes contingent now keeps watch over the residence while a private cleaning company has also been hired.
A few police commandos in camouflage uniform can also be seen.
Legislators loyal to Wickremesinghe keep up back-to-back press conferences at the residence which has become the center of media attention, with crowds mobbing visiting politicians and asking for selfies.
In comparison Rajapaksa has remained low-key, quietly organizing a campaign to win over MPs to support him when parliament eventually meets.
Huge sums have allegedly been offered to potential defectors and some lawmakers have already left the UNP.
Wickremesinghe, who has been speaking to local and foreign journalists while conducting talks with allies, said he was concerned that the power struggle could degenerate into street violence.
“There can be trouble in the country if this goes on,” he said.
“We will be calling on our people not to resort to violence... but you don’t know what arises in a situation like this. A few desperate people can start off a bloodbath.”


Motion filed by top parliament official to impeach Somali president

Updated 54 min 11 sec ago
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Motion filed by top parliament official to impeach Somali president

MOGADISHU: The top official of Somali's parliament administration said on Sunday he had filed a motion with the speaker of parliament to impeach the country's president, Mohamed Abdullahi.
"We have filed an impeachment against the president of the federal republic of Somalia," Abdikarim H. Abdi Buh said in a statement.
Constitutionally, 92 lawmakers have to sign such a motion for it to be submitted to the speaker. Parliament may debate the motion a week later.
Somalia's parliament has 275 lawmakers in total. A successful impeachment vote requires the backing of two thirds of all MPs.
A copy of the motion, seen by Reuters, lists as grounds for the impeachment an allegation that the president secretly signed agreements with other countries including Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The agreements touched on the use of Somali ports and economic and security cooperation, it said.
He was also accused of illegally extraditing alleged criminals to other countries and violating Somalia's federalism law and the rules and regulations of parliament.
Officials at the president's office could not be reached for comment.