Sri Lankan president casts doubt on working with reinstated prime minister

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Sri Lanka’s president has accused newly reappointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of corrupt leadership in a scathing speech.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who administered the oath that returned Mr Wickremesinghe to office, voiced doubts about their ability to work together and signalled the two-month political crisis is far from resolved.

He told the prime minister and a group of his politicians that he cannot find people of honesty and integrity to help him take the country forward.

“With the issues we have, I am not sure what guarantees we have that we could go on this journey together,” Mr Sirisena told Mr Wickremesinghe.

Mr Sirisena abruptly dismissed Mr Wickremesinghe on October 26 and appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place, with Mr Wickremesinghe insisting his removal was unlawful.

But Mr Rajapaksa continued to hold office with Mr Sirisena’s support, and his opponents went to court.

Sri Lanka Politics
Supporters of ousted Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrate outside the supreme court complex in Colombo (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Mr Rajapaksa asked the Supreme Court to lift the suspension, but it refused and extended the suspension until mid-January, forcing Mr Rajapaksa to resign on Saturday.

Sri Lanka had been without a government from the time Mr Rajapaksa was suspended by the Court of Appeal and was facing the danger of being unable to spend government money from January 1 without a budget.

The swearing in of Mr Wickremesinghe took place privately, with only a few politicians in attendance and media not permitted.

It initially indicated an end to the impasse, but Mr Sirisena’s speech is a sign of more acrimony, possibly leading to early parliamentary elections.

Mr Wickremesinghe spoke separately at his official residence and refrained from responding to the president.

“Now I will assume duties of the office of prime minister,” he told his cheering supporters.

“Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, the progress of this country and the development programs that we undertook were stalled,” he said. “Not only that, the country went backward. Today we commit firstly to bring back normalcy and resuming the development program.”

In a televised speech, Mr Sirisena said his reasons for firing Mr Wickremesinghe included a lack of interest in helping investigate an alleged insider trade during a bond issue, in which a former Central Bank governor who is a close friend of Mr Wickremesinghe is implicated.

He also said Mr Wickremesinghe’s ministers alienated Buddhist monks by having them arrested for keeping unlicensed captive elephants at temples.

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation with an influential clergy.

Mr Sirisena also criticised Mr Wickremesinghe for investigations into alleged abuses during the long civil war that ended in 2009. The president said Mr Wickremesinghe had only government soldiers arrested but had not looked into prosecuting former Tamil Tiger rebels he said were hiding in foreign countries.

“My view is that we should prosecute everyone, or else we should negotiate with the international community and free our soldiers (from accusations),” he said.

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