Tens of thousands of supporters of Sri Lanka‘s deposed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have protested in the capital, Colombo, as political turmoil on the island enters its fifth day.
Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) workers staged the protest on Tuesday outside his official residence, where he has remained since President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed him last week and appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as his replacement.
“We are against the sacking, the people did not vote for Sirisena to act in this manner,” Wickremesinghe told supporters from a makeshift stage.
“We will resist what the president has done,” he said, as crowds chanted “down with the rogue PM”, referring to Rajapaksa, and “respect the mandate, recall parliament.”
Effigies of Sirisena were torn up in a symbolic protest against the president’s move, which has been described by many local newspapers as a “constitutional coup”.
Large crowds, many wearing caps in green, the UNP party colour, took part in the hurriedly arranged rally that forced the closure of several roads.
Colombo on edge
Sri Lanka was plunged into crisis on Friday when Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and suspended parliament, breaking up a fragile coalition governing the South Asian country.
“This is a coup. It has all the characteristics of a coup,” one of the protesters, Deepanjalie Abeywardene, told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday, while holding a sign which read “reconvene the parliament”.
“This is a third-grade act by Sirisena. We voted him as the president to ensure democracy,” said P Ariyadasa, a 62-year-old farmer from Mesawachchiya, 230km from Colombo.
Parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya has warned that the crisis could lead to a “bloodbath” on the streets unless Sirisena ends the suspension of parliament to let MPs choose between Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe has demanded that parliament meet so that he can prove he has majority backing.
Some of Wickremesinghe’s removed ministers have refused to accept his sacking. On Sunday, former oil minister Arjuna Ranatunga attempted to enter his office, leading to violence that left two dead.
Sirisensa named a new cabinet on Monday with Rajapaksa in charge of finance.
Sri Lanka is a key state in the battle for influence in South Asia between traditional ally India and China.
The Chinese government is one of the few to congratulate pro-Beijing Rajapaksa on becoming prime minister.