Sri Lanka's chief justice has been found guilty of three charges of professional misconduct and financial irregularities by a parliamentary panel, in impeachment proceedings that has sparked opposition protests and raised international concerns.

It was not immediately clear if Shirani Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first female head of the Supreme Court, has to step down effectively from now or has to wait until parliament debates the impeachment investigations in January.

"We have found her guilty of three charges out of the first five we have investigated," Nimal Siripala de Silva, minister of irrigation and a member of the impeachment panel told reporters on Saturday.

Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa appointed an 11-member select committee, seven of them from the ruling party, to investigate 14 charges against Bandaranayake, ranging from unexplained wealth to professional misconduct.

The move to impeach Bandaranayake came after she scuttled several bills, including one that gave more powers to President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother Basil, the economic development minister.

Opposition committee members hearing the accusations walked out on Friday, a day after Bandaranayake staged a similar walkout, leaving the process in disarray amid charges that the government is determined to get rid of her.

The US embassy in Colombo said it was "very concerned" about the impeachment process and demanded that the government follow the rule of law.

The main Sri Lankan lawyers' associations, which represent thousands of lawyers, united on Friday to express solidarity with Bandaranayake and praised her for upholding the independence and dignity of the judiciary.

The associations and opposition parties have described the impeachment as an effort to undermine judicial independence and concentrate more powers with President Rajapaksa, who holds executive powers and effectively controls the 225-member Parliament with two-thirds of its members on his side.

Source: Agencies