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Throw the book at him: Sri Lanka parliament descends into farce

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Parliament member Johnston Fernando who is backing newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa throws a chair at police who are there to protect parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya (not pictured) during a parliament session in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 16, 2018.

[COLOMBO] Sri Lanka's parliament descended into chaos for a second day on Friday as lawmakers supporting newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, chili paste and water bottles at the Speaker to try to disrupt a second no-confidence motion.

The vote went ahead anyway and for a second time lawmakers turned against Mr Rajapaksa and his new government, possibly opening the way for the return of Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister.

Mr Wickremesinghe was removed by President Maithripala Sirisena late last month and replaced with Mr Rajapaksa, plunging the country into political turmoil.

"We have the majority," Mr Wickremesinghe told reporters. "We can form our government and we will act accordingly."

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Mr Sirisena is now faced with the choice of either reappointing the man he kicked out only a few weeks ago, or allowing the crisis to continue with potentially damaging consequences for the economy.

Mr Rajapaksa supporters poured on to the floor of parliament, surrounding the Speaker's chair, and demanded the arrest of two lawmakers from Mr Wickremesinghe's party for allegedly bringing knives into the house on Thursday.

An MP from Mr Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna party sat on Speaker Karu Jayasuriya's chair surrounded by more than 20 lawmakers, delaying the start of proceedings. Mr Rajapaksa loyalists then tried to prevent Mr Jayasuriya from sitting on a second chair brought in by police.

When Mr Jayasuriya started calling out names to know whom MPs supported, Mr Rajapaksa supporters threw the books and chili paste at him.

Parliament on Wednesday passed the first no-confidence motion against Mr Rajapaksa and his government with the backing of 122 of 225 lawmakers in a voice vote, followed by a signed document. Mr Sirisena had not accepted that result, calling for the second vote.

Mr Sirisena dissolved parliament last week and ordered elections to break the deadlock. But the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.

Sources close to the leadership have said Mr Sirisena's decision to sack Mr Wickremesinghe came after the prime minister's party rejected the president's request to back him for second five-year term in the 2020 presidency. They had also split over whether to back Chinese or Indian investors in various projects, the sources said.

India and Western countries have requested Mr Sirisena act in line with the constitution while raising concerns over Mr Rajapaksa's close ties with China. Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Mr Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015.

Tourism accounts for nearly 5 per cent of the economy and is a key main foreign exchange earner, along with the garment and tea industries, and remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad.

REUTERS