Sri Lanka opposition defy gov’t, storm parliament


COLOMBO, AFP

Sri Lanka’s opposition Monday broke police road blocks and forced their way into the parliament building where they vowed to impeach President Chandrika Kumaratunga for shutting down the assembly.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe led MPs into the barricaded building, defying the suspension of parliament where Kumaratunga’s minority government faced near certain defeat at a vote that had been scheduled for this week.

“She has qualified for impeachment by shutting down parliament in an undemocratic and dictatorial move,” Wickremesinghe said. “She is now running scared and is shooting at every leaf and shadow.”

He said the joint opposition, which holds a majority in the 225-member assembly, was being consulted on the impeachment document and hoped to have a charge sheet against the president ready within two weeks.

“We have two ways of demonstrating our majority: one is to get the parliament reconvened and show the majority on the floor of the House, and the other is to get a majority in the House to sign the impeachment,” he said.

Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) also lambasted Kumaratunga for ordering police to set up road blocks using trucks and other obstacles to prevent legislators travelling to the parliament building.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) said it was pressing for charges against policemen who obstructed legislators.

“Some of us were prevented from travelling in our vehicles and we were forced to walk (two miles) to the building,” SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem said.

Hakeem’s sacking as trade minister June 20 precipitated problems for Kumaratunga when seven SLMC MPs defected to the opposition, leaving her government in the minority.

Since then, she has been battling to save her government from defeat on the floor of the House. On July 5 she let lapse an 18-year-old state of emergency rather than risk a monthly vote, which could have been a test of her government, on the extension of the tough laws.

Tamil legislator A. Vinayagamoorthi accused Kumaratunga of being undemocratic and said the police action against legislators was “another step towards a dictatorship in the country.”

The MPs stormed into the tightly guarded parliament building after Speaker Anura Bandaranaike resisted opposition calls to defy the presidential decree that halted parliament until Sept. 7.

Bandaranaike ruled Sunday that he was unable to reconvene the assembly which Kumaratunga, his estranged sister, had ordered shut to avoid a no-confidence vote against the government.