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Six ministers quit Sri Lanka's troubled government

[COLOMBO] Six ministers quit Sri Lanka's troubled coalition government, forcing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to patch up his cabinet Thursday ahead of a wider reshuffle.

Mr Wickremesinghe gave the duties of the six Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ministers to four other members of his Cabinet.

The prime minister's United National Party had increased pressure on the followers of President Maithripala Sirisena - who voted against Mr Wickremesinghe in a recent no-confidence motion - to resign.

With the help of minority Tamil and Muslim parties, the premier defeated the motion, dealing a blow to Mr Sirisena, who had campaigned for Mr Wickremesinghe to stand down.

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Those who voted against Mr Wickremesinghe "have no moral right to remain in government", Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga said.

Relations between the rival groups in the unity government soured after both suffered losses in February's local council elections.

Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa's party trounced the UNP and SLFP to win control of two-thirds of the 340 local councils at stake.

In the run-up to the election, Mr Sirisena branded the prime minister and his party as more corrupt than the Rajapaksa regime, which Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe jointly toppled in 2015.

A presidential spokesman said a wider government reshuffle would be announced next week.

The SLFP is to decide later this month if it will remain in government. Rajapaksa is pressing for a 2020 national election to be brought forward.