November 4, 2018 / 7:38 PM / 8 days ago

Sri Lanka's president summons parliament on Nov. 14 as pressure over PM's sacking grows

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered the suspended parliament to reconvene on Nov. 14, clearing the way for a vote on his decision to sack the elected prime minister and replace him with wartime nationalist Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka's ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sirisena abruptly fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct.26 and appointed former president Rajapaksa to lead the ruling coalition instead, raising fears at home and abroad that this could derail Sri Lanka’s halting national reconciliation process.

Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is unconstitutional. His United National Party submitted a motion to that effect to parliament but Sirisena suspended its session until Nov. 16, citing a need for Rajapaksa to make arrangements for the new government prevented the vote.

Sirisena’s decree for the house to reconvene on Nov. 14 was published in the official gazette on Sunday.

It was not clear if and when the 225-member parliament would vote on the UNP’s motion that Wickremesinghe’s dismissal was illegal.

Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka to a military defeat of Tamil separatist guerrillas in 2009 but has since faced widespread allegations of human rights abuse and targeting of Tamil civilians.

Wickremesinghe told Reuters earlier on Sunday that the United States and Japan had frozen more than a billion dollars of development aid after his abrupt dismissal raised doubts about the future of democracy in the island.

This follows a warning from the EU that it could withdraw duty-free concessions for Sri Lankan exports if it didn’t stick to commitments on national reconciliation.

Sirisena’s summons comes after Wickremesinghe’s UNP said on Friday that 118 lawmakers had met the speaker to demand parliament be allowed to convene.

Before Wickremesinghe’s dismissal, the UNP held 107 seats. Of those, eight have defected to support Rajapaksa. One out of 16 Tamil MPs also joined Rajapaksa.

Among the causes for the animosity between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena is Wickremesinghe’s refusal to back the president’s bid to stand in the next election in late 2019. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe’s government of not taking seriously an alleged assassination plot against him.

Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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