One person has been killed in Sri Lanka after the bodyguards of a deposed government minister opened fire on a crowd of protestors amid a worsening constitutional crisis, report agencies.
Sunday’s shooting follows a tumultuous 48-hours in the island nation, as the country comes to grips with President Maithripala Sirisena’s shock dismissal of his cabinet, the suspension of parliament, and the appointment of former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister.
The shooting occurred on Sunday, as crowds loyal to the president attempted to prevent recently deposed petroleum minister Arjuna Ranatunga from entering a government building in the capital, Colombo. As the crowds surged forward, bodyguards of Ranatunga, a former Sri Lankan cricket captain, opened fire, killing one and injuring three others. One bodyguard has since been taken into custody and an investigation was under way, police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera confirmed.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Ranatunga was rushed into the building, which houses the headquarters of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, a national oil and gas company. Speaking to reporters later Sunday, after being rescued by police commandos, Ranatunga said his bodyguards opened fire because the crowd ‘was trying to kill me’.
The incident is the first reported outbreak of violence since Sirisena’s televised address Friday announcing the sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the appointment of Rajapaksa.
Wickramasinghe, who insists he is still prime minister, has denounced the move as unconstitutional, sparking a standoff between the two groups of supporters.
Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, the president, who maintains executive powers, can appoint a new prime minister once the current premier has lost control of parliament.
At present, Wickremesinghe’s United National party (UNP) hold a plurality in Sri Lanka’s 225-seat assembly, and would be unlikely to support the new measures. However, on Saturday, Sirisena moved to suspend Parliament until mid-November. The move allows supporters of Sirisena and Rajapaksa an opportunity to secure votes ahead of parliament’s resumption, potentially opening the way for the new prime minister to secure a majority and shut down any attempt to push through a no confidence vote. Wickramasinghe was set to meet senior members of the UNP at the prime ministerial residence for discussions Monday. Speaking to CNN Friday evening, Rajapaksa said it would take a week before a new cabinet is put in place. He said the new cabinet would represent a ‘grand coalition’ that would have a majority of more than 113 seats.
On Sunday, the Speaker of the Parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, appeared to back Wickremesinghe, saying in a letter to Sirisena that the suspension would have “serious and undesirable consequences.”
Several hundred supporters of Wickramasinghe have since gathered outside his official home in the capital, where he has remained holed-up since Friday’s announcement, waiving flags and signs denouncing Sirisena.
In a statement, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington is following the events in Sri Lanka “with concern” and called on Sirisena to and the Speaker “to immediately reconvene parliament and allow the democratically elected representatives of the Sri Lankan people to fulfill their responsibilities.”