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Shooting in Sri Lanka fuels political showdown

October 28, 2018

A bodyguard for a sacked minister in Sri Lanka shot at least three people as tensions escalated between Sri Lanka's top politicians. The crisis started with President Maithripala Sirisena firing PM Ranil Wickramasinghe.

Sri Lanka Poster des neu benannten Premierminister Mahinda Rajapaksa und Präsident Maithripala Sirisena
A man walks past the posters of newly appointed PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala SirisenaImage: Reuters/D. Liyanawatte

At least one person was killed and two others wounded in Sri Lanka's largest city of Colombo on Sunday when a member of security for ex-petroleum minister Arjuna Ranatunga fired at a crowd, police said.

According to Ranatunga, the guard opened fire when a crowd attacked the politician while he was trying to enter his offices on the ministry premises.

The bodyguard has reportedly been arrested.

The Sunday shooting marks the first violent incident in the constitutional crisis which ensued when President Maithripala Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe in a disputed move on Friday. He then named former Sri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new head of government.

Wickramasinghe stays defiant

Wickramasinghe disputes the president's authority to sack him and insists that he still commands a parliamentary majority.  He remains barricaded inside the official prime minister's residence.

However, President Sirisena has suspended parliament's work until mid-November, presumably to ease Rajapaksa's work in forming a new cabinet. The move was decried by parliamentary speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who backs the embattled Wickramasinghe.

Ex-petroleum minister Arjuna Ranatunga is also loyal to the sacked Wickramasinghe. He claims that the crowd that tried to stop him entering his office was made up of supporters of the new prime minister, Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka Colombo 70. Jahrestag des Parlaments
Ranil Wickramasinghe (R) delivers a speech to the parliament in 2017 alongside President SirisenaImage: Imago/Zuma Press/T. Basnayaka

President claims assassination plot

Just after the Sunday shooting in Colombo, President Sirisena addressed the nation saying that the main reason for firing Wickramasinghe was an alleged assassination plot targeting Sirisena himself.

Sirisena also said there was an involvement of a "Cabinet Minister in this plot to assassinate me," according to Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror. Sirisena did not name the minister in question.

"Under these political problems, economic troubles and the strong plot to assassinate me, the only alternative open to me was to invite former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and appoint him as prime Minister to form a new government," Sirisena said.

Stuck between China and India

Rajapaksa ruled the island state between 2005 and 2015. He is credited with ending the Sri Lankan 25-year civil war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009. However, the UN is currently investigating accusations of war crimes and human right abuses committed by his government.

Read more: Sri Lanka's Sirisena to visit China after scaling back ties

The conflict between the politicians reflects a wider power struggle between India and China. Rajapaksa drifted closer to China in the later years of his administration, when he was ousted by the alliance of the sacked prime minister Wickramasinghe and the now-president Sirisena.

China's new Silk Road map

Wickramasinghe is believed to be closer to India, and pro-Western.

The balance between India and China was also a reason for clashes between Sirisena and Wickramasinghe.

Trend 'extremely worrying'

Speaking to DW, Siegfried O. Wolf from the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) said that the crisis started "after Chinese economic interests were seriously challenged by Wickramasinghe's administration."

"Actually, this trend is extremely worrying for other countries with smaller economies and fragile state situations" involved with Beijing's New Silk road project to ship goods to Europe, he added.

dj/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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