Sri Lanka court bat­tles with pres­i­dent

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COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s high­est court yesterday banned Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena from sack­ing the leg­is­la­ture un­til it de­cides on the le­gal­ity of his move last month to call snap elec­tions.

The Supreme Court con­cluded hear­ing 10 pe­ti­tions against Sirisena’s move as part of a bit­ter power strug­gle with his erst­while prime minister Ranil Wick­remesinghe, but re­served judgement for an un­spec­i­fied date.

The courts re­open on Mon­day.

Sirisena plunged the coun­try into cri­sis on Oc­to­ber 26 when he fired Wick­remesinghe and ap­pointed the con­tentious Mahinda Rajapakse in his place.

He then dis­solved par­lia­ment on Novem­ber 9 and called elec­tions nearly two years ahead of sched­ule on Jan­uary 5.

Four days af­ter he sacked par­lia­ment through a spe­cial de­cree, the Supreme Court is­sued an in­terim rul­ing sus­pend­ing Sirisena’s ac­tion and restor­ing par­lia­ment, which al­most im­me­di­ately passed a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion against Rajapakse.

“The court is­sued a fresh or­der ex­tend­ing the ban on the pres­i­dent un­til the case is con­cluded,” a court of­fi­cial told re­porters af­ter the un­usu­ally long hear­ing yesterday mark­ing four days of le­gal ar­gu­ments.

Se­cu­rity was stepped up out­side the Supreme Court amid ex­pec­ta­tions of a fi­nal rul­ing yes- ter­day evening.

The court’s seven- judge bench is ex­pected to de­liver a rul­ing on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of Sirisena’s move as early as Mon­day.

Sacked premier Wick­remesinghe’s party and their al­lies, who com­mand a ma­jor­ity in the 225-mem­ber assem­bly, have sug­gested they could be­gin im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Sirisena de­pend­ing on the rul­ing.

Wick­remesinghe’s party loy­al­ists be­lieve the court de­ci­sion will go in their favour, a view held by many in­de­pen­dent lawyers.

Problems for Sirisena were com­pounded on Mon­day when the Court of Ap­peal sus­pended the en­tire cab­i­net and asked Rajapakse to ex­plain on what au­thor­ity he was hold­ing of­fice.

With par­lia­men­tary pro­ceed­ings de­gen­er­at­ing into brawls, the United States, the Euro­pean Union and other pow­ers have raised con­cerns over the cri­sis in the strate­gi­cally im­por­tant is­land na­tion of 21 mil­lion peo­ple.

Only China has recog­nised the ap­point­ment of Rajapakse, who dur­ing his decade as pres­i­dent un­til 2015 re­lied heav­ily on Bei­jing for diplo­matic and fi­nan­cial sup­port.

As pres­i­dent from 2005 un­til 2015, he ended Sri Lanka’s four­decade civil war in 2009 by crush­ing the rebel Tamil Tigers.

But 40,000 eth­nic Tamils were al­legedly mas­sa­cred in the process. — AFP

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