Easter Bombings: Sri Lanka Parliament Blames President For Lapses

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations at the National Convention Center in Beijing on May 15, 2019. NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

 

A Sri Lankan parliamentary report accused President Maithripala Sirisena Wednesday of “actively undermining” national security and of failing to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings earlier this year that killed 269 people.

A cross-party committee which probed alleged intelligence lapses related to the suicide bombings said Sirisena had not given proper guidance or support to the country’s security establishment and police.

It also found fault with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and deputy defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene, who it said had “failed in their duties”.

Some 269 people were killed on April 21 in a series of suicide attacks on hotels and churches blamed on a local jihadi group.

“The PSC observes that the president failed on numerous occasions to give leadership and also actively undermined government (security and intelligence) systems,” the 1,649-page report said.

The parliamentary select committee has no powers to indict, but its findings can form the basis of criminal prosecutions or civil action against those identified as being responsible for serious lapses.

The inquiry said Sirisena — who is also the minister of defence — had excluded the police chief from crucial national security council meetings.

The report added that the country’s spy agency — the State Intelligence Service (SIS) which falls directly under Sirisena’s remit — had received advance information on the attacks, but failed to act on it.

SIS director Nilantha Jayawardena had been warned on April 4 by a foreign intelligence agency — identified previously by officials as from India — of a possible attack.

“This failure by the SIS has resulted in hundreds of deaths, many more injured and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, and that must not be treated lightly,” the report said.

Sirisena has long blamed police chief Pujith Jayasundara and ministry of defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando for lapses, and initiated criminal prosecutions against them.

The inquiry acknowledged they shouldered some of the blame, but added that the “greatest responsibility” lay with the SIS director.

There are two other ongoing investigations into the attacks — an independent panel headed by an Appeal Court judge and a probe set up by the police.

The parliamentary report released Wednesday said there was also no evidence linking the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group, which was blamed for the blast — with the Islamic State group, despite the latter claiming responsibility days later.

Sri Lanka Extends Emergency A Month After Suicide Bombings

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena delivers a speech/ AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s president extended on Wednesday by a further month the state of emergency imposed immediately after the Easter Sunday Islamist bombings that killed 258 people.

Maithripala Sirisena issued a proclamation saying that the emergency, which gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods of time, would continue for another 30 days, citing “public security”.

Sri Lanka initially imposed the emergency to crack down on local jihadists blamed for the April 21 bombings that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels.

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Three weeks after the suicide bombings, anti-Muslim riots broke out in a province north of the capital in a backlash against the attacks. At least one Muslim man was killed and hundreds of Muslim-owned shops and homes were destroyed. Several mosques were also vandalised.

The police and the military say they have arrested scores of suspects, both in connection with the bombings and over what appeared to be organised violence against the Muslim minority.

The authorities say they have neutralised the jihadist threat after arresting almost all those involved in the Easter attacks, but troops and police remain on alert across the island.

Christians make up 7.6 per cent and Muslims 10 per cent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka.

AFP

Sri Lanka Refuses To Test President’s Sanity

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena watches a cultural show at Independence Square in Colombo.  Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

A Sri Lanka court Monday rejected calls to subject the president to a mental health examination after he sacked a former ally, dissolved parliament and plunged the country into crisis.

The Court of Appeal rejected a petition to force Maithripala Sirisena before a panel of psychiatrists to scrutinise his mental state in the wake of the political upheaval in the Indian Ocean island.

The turmoil began in October when Sirisena dismissed Sri Lanka’s prime minister and dissolved parliament, both decisions later overturned by the country’s highest court.

For more than a month, Sri Lanka drifted without a government as two rivals jostled for the prime ministership and protests rocked the capital Colombo.

The instability ended peacefully when Sirisena’s controversial appointee Mahinda Rajapakse stood down, and the deposed prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe returned to power with the support of parliament.

Mental infirmity is grounds for removing a president if two-thirds of parliament agree, but no party or coalition in the legislature commands such a majority.

The two-judge bench of the appeals court said it did not have the jurisdiction to force Sirisena to be examined, and ordered the petitioner pay the state 100,000 rupees ($540) in legal costs.

Sirisena came to power in 2015 in a coalition with Wickremesinghe. But personal differences festered and their alliance imploded in October when Sirisena kicked his former ally out of office.

Wickremesinghe refused to stand down and allow Rajapakse, a former president and divisive war-era strongman, to take his place.

The crisis dragged on for weeks until the Supreme Court denied Rajapakse the right to rule and he bowed out in December.

Some factions within Sri Lanka’s parliament have pushed for Sirisena to be investigated for orchestrating an alleged coup.

AFP

Court Rules Against Sri Lanka President, Impeachment Edges Closer

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena/ AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court opened the way for potential impeachment proceedings against the president on Thursday, ruling that he broke the law by dissolving parliament last month. 

The verdict is a major blow to Maithripala Sirisena, seven weeks into a  political crisis in the Indian Ocean island nation that has sparked alarm abroad and concern over its finances.

The seven-judge bench unanimously agreed that Sirisena violated the constitution when he dissolved parliament last month and called a snap election nearly two years ahead of schedule.

“I make order that the November 9 Gazette (decree) sacking parliament… has no force or effect in law and declare its operation illegal,” Chief Justice Nalin Perera said as he delivered the landmark judgement to a packed courtroom.

Sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party had said it would await the outcome of Thursday’s decision before deciding whether to open impeachment proceedings.

Sirisena triggered the unprecedented political crisis on October 26 when he fired Wickremesinghe and appointed contentious former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse in his place.

There was no immediate comment from either Sirisena or Rajapakse. However, Rajapakse’s legislator son, Namal, told reporters outside the courthouse that they did not agree with the verdict.

“We do not agree with the decision of the court, but we do not have a higher court to appeal to,” he said.

 ‘Coup’ 

The leftist JVP, or the People’s Liberation Front, said the sacking of the prime minister in October was a “coup orchestrated by Sirisena and Rajapakse” and called for a resolution in parliament to bring them to justice.

“This first thing this (restored) parliament should is to investigate the coup and bring both the president and his illegal prime minister to justice,” JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.

Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) welcomed the verdict as a victory for democracy.

“As a country, we have to be joyful that we have an independent judiciary that acted as a check on an errant executive,” UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa said.

Sirisena dissolved parliament on November 9 when Rajapakse, the man he appointed as prime minister, was unable to prove a majority in the 225-member assembly.

Constitutional provisions were clear that he could not dissolve the legislature until it completes four and a half years out of its five-year term, which ends in August 2020.

Four days later after parliament was sacked, the Supreme Court issued an interim ruling suspending Sirisena’s decree and restoring parliament, which almost immediately passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapakse, the purported premier.

Wickremesinghe’s party and their allies command a majority in parliament.

On Wednesday, the legislature voted overwhelmingly to demand the reinstatement of Wickremesinghe with the power struggle just weeks away from a government shutdown.

Members of Wickremesinghe’s party and their allies voted 117-0 asking Sirisena to reverse his October 26 dismissal of his former ally.

However, Sirisena has vowed he will not reinstate Wickremesinghe.

Courts have also prevented Rajapakse and his disputed cabinet exercising power until they can prove their legitimacy. A hearing by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday was put off until January 16.

Former finance minister Ravi Karunanayake said the entire public sector will come to a complete standstill from January 1 in the absence of a budget for the New Year.

Officials have expressed similar fears and urged Sirisena to resolve the crisis urgently. Sri Lanka’s credit ratings have already been cut.

AFP

Sri Lanka Court Extends Ban On President Sacking Parliament

 Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala/AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s highest court Friday banned President Maithripala Sirisena from sacking the legislature until it decides on the legality of his move last month to call snap elections.

The Supreme Court concluded hearing 10 petitions against Sirisena’s move as part of a bitter power struggle with his erstwhile prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, but reserved judgment for an unspecified date.

The courts reopen on Monday.

Sirisena plunged the country into crisis on October 26 when he fired Wickremesinghe and appointed the contentious Mahinda Rajapakse in his place.

He then dissolved parliament on November 9 and called elections nearly two years ahead of schedule on January 5.

Four days after he sacked parliament through a special decree, the Supreme Court issued an interim ruling suspending Sirisena’s action and restoring parliament, which almost immediately passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapakse.

“The court issued a fresh order extending the ban on the president until the case is concluded,” a court official told reporters after the unusually long hearing on Friday marking four days of legal arguments.

Security was stepped up outside the Supreme Court amid expectations of a final ruling on Friday evening.

The court’s seven-judge bench is expected to deliver a ruling on the constitutionality of Sirisena’s move as early as Monday.

Sacked premier Wickremesinghe’s party and their allies, who command a majority in the 225-member assembly, have suggested they could begin impeachment proceedings against Sirisena depending on the ruling.

Wickremesinghe’s party loyalists believe the court decision will go in their favour, a view held by many independent lawyers.

Problems for Sirisena were compounded on Monday when the Court of Appeal suspended the entire cabinet and asked Rajapakse to explain on what authority he was holding office.

With parliamentary proceedings degenerating into brawls, the United States, the European Union and other powers have raised concerns over the crisis in the strategically important island nation of 21 million people.

Only China has recognised the appointment of Rajapakse, who during his decade as president until 2015 relied heavily on Beijing for diplomatic and financial support.

As president from 2005 until 2015, he ended Sri Lanka’s four-decade civil war in 2009 by crushing the rebel Tamil Tigers.

But 40,000 ethnic Tamils were allegedly massacred in the process.

Rajapakse and his family are also alleged to have profited from his time in power through corrupt deals.

During an earlier stint as prime minister from 2001 until 2004, Wickremesinghe is credited with pulling Sri Lanka out of its first ever recession, in part with reforms that have endeared him to the West.

AFP

Sri Lanka Elections: Rajapaksa Seeks Comeback

Rajapaksa seeks comeback in sri Lanka- electionVoting started in Sri Lanka at 7:00 am in a general election, with Former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, hoping to stage a comeback as Prime Minister.

Mr Rajapaksa had lost the presidency in a snap election in January to his former Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena.

Four people had died in violent incidents during the campaign, although, monitors said that there had been less violence compared to previous years.

With 15 million people eligible to cast their vote, the exercise would end at 4:00pm and results would be released on Tuesday.

Mr Rajapaksa was hailed a warrior king for defeating the Tamil Tiger separatists to end a nearly 26-year civil war.

However, he was accused of using his popularity to take control of parliament, the courts, armed forces and all government institutions.

He was also accused of widespread human rights abuses and suppressing freedoms.

Mr Rajapaksa sought an extended period of rule after abolishing a two-term limit for presidents when he lost in his attempt to win a third term.

His main rival is the sitting Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a two-time Prime Minister.