Pandemonium Halts Sri Lanka Gov't

Pandemonium Halts Sri Lanka Gov't

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Pandemonium reigned in Sri Lanka's Parliament as lawmakers supporting disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa violently demonstrated in the house to prevent the proceedings from taking place on Friday, a day after a fierce brawl between rival legislators.

They threw books and chairs at police who escorted Speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the chamber and did not allow him to sit in the speaker's chair. Jayasuriya, using a microphone, adjourned the house until Monday.

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

On Thursday, rival lawmakers exchanged blows, leaving one injured, after the speaker announced there was no prime minister or government following Wednesday's no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and continued in his role as prime minister.

Sri Lanka has been in political crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed the former strongman Rajapaksa. Wickremsinghe says he has the majority support in the house.

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.

On Thursday, Sirisena held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties that voted for the no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa. Sirisena asked that Parliament take up the motion again, striking the part that decried Wickremesinghe's ouster and Rajapaksa's appointment as unconstitutional and allow it to be debated and a roll-call vote to be taken.

(KA)