US & World

Sri Lanka shooting kills one amid political crisis

Troops and police guard the Sri Lankan oil company's officeImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Supporters of Mr Rajapaksa gathered at the oil company

One person has been killed after a Sri Lankan MP’s bodyguard fired at a mob amid a growing political crisis.

It happened as protesters blocked Arjuna Ranatunga, an oil minister in the sacked cabinet, from entering his office.

Earlier, President Maithripala Sirisena replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe with former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa and suspended parliament.

He insists the move is constitutional.

In a speech, Mr Sirisena strongly criticised Mr Wickramasinghe and linked him to fraud.

Mr Wickramasinghe says he is still prime minister, has refused to leave the official residence and wants the opportunity to prove in parliament that he still commands a majority.

How did the shooting happen?

It occurred as Mr Ranatunga tried to enter his office at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

A 34-year-old man died shortly after being admitted to hospital, health officials said. Two others were injured in the shooting.

AFP quoted witnesses as saying Mr Ranatunga, a 54-year-old former national cricket team captain, rushed from the scene by police commandos in a helmet and body armour.

Mr Ranatunga’s bodyguard has been arrested and an investigation is under way, police said.

What did President Sirisena say?

Speaking on national TV, Mr Sirisena said there had been big differences over policy with Mr Wickramasinghe for more than three years.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Sirisena insisted that replacing his PM was not unconstitutional

He linked Mr Wickramasinghe to a controversial central bank bond sale, which is alleged to have led to the loss of 11bn Sri Lankan rupees ($65m; £50m).

The president also alleged that a cabinet minister was involved in a plot to kill him and that police had obstructed an investigation.

All this meant the “only alternative” was to appoint Mr Rajapaksa as prime minister, Mr Sirisena said.

For his part, Mr Rajapaksa hailed a “new democratic beginning and the rejection of the politics of hate”.

A Sri Lankan ‘House of Cards’

By Ethirajan Anbarasan, BBC South Asia Regional Editor

Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickramasinghe joined hands to defeat Mr Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. But they have since fallen out over issues from the economy to relations with India.

Local media have criticised Mr Sirisena’s decision to suspend parliament for nearly three weeks; its being seen as an attempt to give Mr Rajapaksa time to get the support of the required number of MPs.

The political fallout has resulted in clashes and there are concerns that if the uncertainty continues it could lead to more violence.

Sri Lanka’s economy has been faltering due to the falling value of the rupee and the increase in oil prices. It owes billions of dollars in debt to China. People want political stability rather than bitter infighting.

What other signs of tension are there?

Sri Lankan parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has urged Mr Sirisena to reconsider his decision to suspend parliament, saying it would have serious and undesirable consequences.

Mr Jayasuriya also supported Mr Wickramasinghe’s request to keep privileges and security provision until another candidate could prove they had a parliamentary majority.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Rajapaksa has been accused of massive corruption and atrocities during the country’s civil war

Rival groups supporting Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Wickramasinghe have been gathering at different locations in Colombo.

Mr Rajapaksa’s supporters are reported to have forcibly taken over Sri Lankan state media. Mr Jayasuriya said that this would have serious international implications.

Trade unions linked to Mr Rajapaksa’s party have also been blocking access to ministers who are from Mr Wickramasinghe’s party, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile hundreds of Wickramasinghe supporters have gathered around the prime minister’s Temple Trees residence.

Why is there a crisis?

President Sirisena fired Mr Wickramasinghe after the president’s United People’s Freedom Alliance party (UPFA) quit the government.

Mr Wickramasinghe helped the president triumph in the 2015 poll, but the pair reportedly clashed in cabinet recently over government plans to lease a port to India.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Supporters have gathered outside Mr Wickramasinghe’s residence

The prime minister and his United National Party (UNP) came to power promising accountability for alleged atrocities committed in Sri Lanka’s civil war and during Mr Rajapaksa’s period as president.

President Sirisena had been an ally of, and a minister under, Mr Rajapaksa before turning against him.

Mr Rajapaksa ended the civil war in 2009, but faced criticism for the means by which he achieved victory – many thousands of Tamil civilians are thought to have been killed by government forces in the final months of the fighting.

Over the 26-year conflict, between 80,000 and 100,000 people are estimated to have died, with both sides alleged to have perpetrated war crimes.

Moreover, the former president is also accused of corruption on an epic scale, along with his inner circle.

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