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Sri Lanka president rejects no-confidence on disputed PM

Supporters of the United National Party (UNP) and ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe burn coffins to represent the death of democracy during a protest against the government of disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. Sri Lanka has been in a crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena suddenly fired Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa. Sirisena had also suspended Parliament, apparently to allow Rajapaksa time to gather support among lawmakers. (AP Photo/Rukmal Gamage)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Lawmakers in Sri Lanka’s Parliament supporting disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, chairs and chili powder mixed with water to try to block the proceedings on Friday, a day after a fierce brawl between rival lawmakers worsened political turmoil in the island nation.

The lawmakers approved a second vote of no confidence against Rajapaksa but Sirsena refused to accept it, saying his advice was not followed, according to his spokesman, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena.

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 lawmakers and policemen were wounded.

Sri Lanka has been in a political crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe says he still has the support of a majority in Parliament.

Jayasuriya, using a microphone, conducted the proceedings while standing on the floor of Parliament, which for the second time passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and his government by a voice vote.

Jayasuriya first offered to take the vote by name, but was unable to do so because of the commotion and opted for a voice vote. He then adjourned the house until Monday.

Lawmakers loyal to Rajapaksa hooted and continued to hurl abuse at Jayasuriya until he left the chamber. Arundika Fernando, a lawmaker allied with Rajapaksa, sat in the speaker’s chair while others shouted slogans.

In a tweet, Sirisena vowed not to dissolve Parliament and called upon “all parties to uphold principles of democracy and parliamentary traditions at all times.”

Sirisena dissolved Parliament a week ago and ordered new elections, but the Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended Sirisena’s directive.

Opposition lawmaker R. Sampathan accused Rajapaksa loyalists of preventing a roll-call vote on the no-confidence motion, as requested earlier by Sirisena.

On Thursday, Sirisena held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties that voted for the first motion against Rajapaksa and asked them to take up the motion again and allow it to be debated and then put to a roll-call vote.

Sirisena held the meeting following the chaos in Parliament on Thursday, when rival lawmakers exchanged blows, leaving one injured, after the speaker announced the country had no prime minister or government because of Wednesday’s motion against Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa has refused to accept the no-confidence motion, also saying it should not have been done by voice vote. He also insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and said he is continuing in his role as prime minister.

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. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.

Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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