New Sri Lanka government calls for Rajapaksa 'conspiracy' probe

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 14, 2015 12:54 PM

By Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's new government on Wednesday asked the police to investigate what it called a "diabolical conspiracy" by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to hold on to power even after he was defeated in an election last week.

New President Maithripala Sirisena is trying to shore up his government and prevent a comeback by the former rulers in parliamentary elections that may have to be held this year.

Rajapaksa has denied the allegations against him. His allies say they have been subjected to threats since the election and they have asked for government protection.

The former president and those around him are coming under a level of scrutiny unthinkable until he was voted out of office last Thursday, ending a decade in power notable for its concentration of control among a coterie of relatives and allies.

On Tuesday, opposition politicians filed a series of detailed corruption complaints against Rajapaksa and his brothers and son, who also held government posts. Another filing asks for Rajapaksa to appear in court on Jan. 26.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who filed the latest police complaint, said the government had reliable information that Rajapaksa along with his brother and former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the incumbent chief justice and two other politicians discussed declaring a state of emergency while the counting was going on.

Chief Justice Mohan Peiris was appointed by Rajapaksa after the contested impeachment of his predecessor. The new government believes Peiris has weakened the independence of the judiciary and during the election campaign vowed to have him removed. On Monday, lawyers protested against him in the street.

"They also discussed the possibility of the army taking over the election commission, arresting the election commissioner and even obstructing the counting in the different part of the country by using the armed forces."

Samaraweera said the police chief, army commander, and attorney general had prevented a "diabolical conspiracy" by refusing to take such action.

Rajapaksa, who congratulated the president and stepped down even before official results were announced last Friday, rejected the allegations.

"I deny in all possible terms reports of attempts to use the military to influence election results," Rajapaksa said on his Twitter feed.

"During decades in politics, I have always bowed down to the people's verdict. Wins & losses are a natural part of political life."

Alan Keenan, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, which documents abuses in Sri Lanka, said he welcomed signs the Rajapaksas will be investigated.

"The fact it is politically helpful to the new government - in that it weakens the chances of the Rajapaksas coming back - is also fortuitous but it shouldn't be the primary motivation," he said.

The government does not have a parliamentary majority and unless it can win over defectors it may have to call an election later this year, experts say.

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Hugh Lawson)