Sri Lanka court extends ban on president sacking parliament

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Sri Lankan activists demonstrate amid an ongoing political crisis in Colombo on Friday. President Maithripala Sirisena plunged the country into crisis on Oct. 26 when he fired the prime minister and appointed the contentious Mahinda Rajapakse in his place. — AFP

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka's highest court Friday 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 judgment for an unspecified date. The courts reopen on Monday.

Sirisena plunged the country into crisis on Oct. 26 when he fired Wickremesinghe and appointed the contentious Mahinda Rajapakse in his place. He then dissolved parliament on Nov. 9 and called elections nearly two years ahead of schedule on Jan. 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 on Friday marking four days of legal arguments.

Security was stepped up outside the Supreme Court amid expectations of a final ruling on Friday 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 favor, 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 recognized 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 four-decade civil war in 2009 by crushing the rebel Tamil Tigers. But 40,000 ethnic Tamils were allegedly massacred in the process.

Rajapakse and his family are also alleged to have profited from his time in power through corrupt deals. During an earlier stint as prime minister from 2001 until 2004, Wickremesinghe is credited with pulling Sri Lanka out of its first ever recession, in part with reforms that have endeared him to the West. — AFP


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