Angry Sri Lankans take to street in support of ousted PM

Sacking of Ranil Wickremesinghe has ruptured weak coalition amid claims of coup

Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks at a protest against his removal in Colombo. Photograph: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP/Getty

More than 10,000 protesting supporters of Sri Lanka's ousted prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, brought parts of the capital Colombo to a standstill on Tuesday as political turmoil on the island entered its fifth day.

Sri Lanka was plunged into crisis on Friday when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Mr Wickremesinghe and swore in ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa to replace him, breaking up a fragile coalition governing the country.

Mr Sirisena also suspended parliament, to the fury of Mr Wickremesinghe’s supporters, who say the president is trying to prevent lawmakers from keeping him in power.

On Tuesday, thousands of protesters gathered near Mr Wickremesinghe’s residence to hear the ousted prime minister speak, holding signs demanding Mr Sirisena preserve democracy.


“He has broken his promise and taken the executive powers into his hands,” Mr Wickremesinghe told the crowd, referring to Mr Sirisena. “He has sidelined parliamentary power.”

The crowd, which police estimated at more than 10,000, blocked several roads in the city-centre neighbourhood that includes embassies, high-end stores and hotels, according to a Reuters witness.

‘Third-grade act’

“This is a coup. It has all the characteristics of a coup,” said one of the protesters, Deepanjalie Abeywardene, while holding a sign which read “reconvene the parliament”.

“This is a third-grade act by Sirisena. We voted him as the president to ensure democracy,” said P Ariyadasa, a 62-year-old farmer from Mesawachchiya, 230km from Colombo.

Mr Sirisena maintains his sacking of Mr Wickremesinghe without the approval of parliament was constitutional.

The government's new spokesman, Mahinda Samarasinghe, told a news conference that Mr Sirisena had met foreign diplomats on Monday and told them the constitution allowed for the removal of Mr Wickremesinghe.

Mr Sirisena named a new cabinet on Monday with Mr Rajapaksa in charge of finance.

Mr Rajapaksa’s crushing of a 26-year insurgency by ethnic Tamil separatists in 2009 won him support among the island nation’s Sinhalese majority, and he has a strong following.

Some of Mr Wickremesinghe’s ousted ministers have refused to accept his sacking.

Violence and fatalities

On Sunday, former oil minister Arjuna Ranatunga attempted to enter his office, leading to violence that left two dead.

The speaker of parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, has also refused to recognise Mr Rajapaksa as the new prime minister, warning of “bloodshed” if the standoff moves to the streets.

The power struggle in Sri Lanka comes at a critical time for its economy, with credit rating agencies warning that turmoil could raise financing costs and lower foreign capital inflows as it attempts to refinance sizable government debts.

Sri Lanka is also a key state in a battle for influence in south Asia between traditional ally India and China. The Chinese government has been one of the few to congratulate the pro-Beijing Mr Rajapaksa on becoming prime minister. – Reuters