Sri Lanka’s opposition stages overnight protest in parliament

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Colombo, April 20 (IANS) A group of Sri Lankan opposition parliamentarians continued a day-long fast late into Monday night in protest over a decision by the country’s Bribery and Corruption Commission to summon former president Mahinda Rajapakse over corruption allegations.

The parliamentarians representing the opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) began the protest when parliament proceedings began during the day, demanding the summons be withdrawn.

Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapakse, a brother of the former president, later on Monday summoned the director general of the commission and sought an explanation as to why the former president was asked to appear before the commission, Xinhua reported.

However, opposition parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara said that the protest would continue till Tuesday morning when the speaker is expected to make a special statement on the issue.

Over 80 parliamentarians had signed a petition and handed it over to the speaker against the decision to investigate Rajapakse on allegations of corruption.

They complained that the Bribery and Corruption Commission had overstepped its mandate by summoning the former president and his brother, Gotabaya Rajapakse, who was also the defence secretary during Rajapakse’s decade-long tenure in office.

Gotabaya Rajapakse has been summoned to appear before the commission on Wednesday while Rajapakse has been summoned to appear before the commission on Friday over allegations that he bribed a former member of the ruling United National Party to join him before the January presidential elections by offering him a ministerial post.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday assured the protesters that adequate security would be provided to Rajapakse and he had been summoned only to record a statement.

He then stressed that the government had no influence on the tasks of the anti-graft commission and added that the panel had acted independently.

Wickremesinghe said that President Maithripala Sirisena had taken necessary measures for the security of the former president and if there were any violations of the former president’s rights, his counsels could obtain an injunction from courts.