The political crisis in Sri Lanka turned violent on Sunday after the bodyguard of a “sacked” minister opened fire on a crowd who tried to block his boss from entering the office of a state-owned oil company in Colombo.
Three people were injured in the shooting and one of them, a 34-year-old man, later died in a hospital.
The incident deepened the crisis after President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cabinet and named former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister.
The firing happened when Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, above left, was stopped by Sirisena’s supporters from entering the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation headquarters in Colombo around 3pm.
Ranatunga was rushed into the building and paramilitary police units were summoned. To escape the crowd’s notice, Ranatunga came out wearing a police uniform, bulletproof vest and helmet, got into a waiting police vehicle and sped.
The bodyguard was later arrested. Colombo was tense after people staged street protests condemning the firing incident.
According to Sri Lankan constitution, president cannot sack a prime minister unless the PM dies, resigns or loses a trust vote in Parliament.
Many Sri Lankans are angry with Sirisena’s “unconstitutional” move to sack the cabinet. Many of them do not want a corrupt man like Rajapaksa to lead the government.
The country’s Tamil minority pushing for more rights and autonomy are upset as it was Rajapaksa who ordered a series of brutal military offensives to end the decades-long civil war against the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009. Some 40,000 Tamils were killed in the military crackdown.
Neighbouring India, which maintains warm ties with the island nation, has reason to worry as Rajapaksa is pro-China and anti-India.
Human rights groups are equally concerned as Rajapaksa’s past tenure as president was marked by allegations of extrajudicial killings and media harassment.
Wickremesinghe has so far refused to step down. His United National party (UNP) called for an immediate trust vote but Sirasena foiled its move by suspending the assembly for three weeks until November 16.
UNP alleges Sirasena is giving time to Rajapaksa to engineer defections from Wickremesinghe’s camp. In the 225-seat parliament, Rajapaksa will get a clear majority only if 13 more lawmakers leave UNP.
Rajapaksa believes he will get majority support to run the government in the crucial vote.
After swearing in as prime minister on Friday, Rajapaksa tried to show he is the new leader by receiving Chinese ambassador and visiting a Buddhist temple in Kandy to seek blessings for his administration.