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Rajapakse bows out, ending Sri Lanka power struggle

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka's crisis looked over on Saturday as strongman Mahinda Rajapakse bowed out of a power battle that had crippled the island nation for seven weeks and sent it heading for a possible debt default.

Rajapakse held a multireligious service at his home where he signed a

letter backing down from the post of prime minister controversially conferred

on him on October 26.

Hours after the receiving blessings from the clergy, the 73yearold ex

president sounded bitter and vowed to make a comeback at local council

elections.

There is no doubt at all that the people who stood by us since 2015 will

continue to support us in the future as well, he said addressing his close

associates. We will bring the forces opposed to the country down to their

knees by organising the people.

His aides said he was returning a fleet of limousines he had used since

his disputed appointment.

President Maithripala Sirisena triggered the political turmoil by sacking

premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with his flamboyant former foe

Rajapakse.

But Wickremesinghe refused to step down insisting that his sacking was

illegal, leaving the Indian Ocean nation of 21 million people with two men

claiming the premiership.

Rajapakse was then defeated in a noconfidence motion on November 14.

However, the following day, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ruled that he would

recognise neither man as prime minister, leaving Sri Lanka effectively

without a government.

Risked sovereign default

The country was then heading for a government shutdown as parliament

failed to approve spending for 2019 and credit rating agencies downgraded its

debt amid fears of a sovereign default.

There were doubts about the country's ability to repay $1.5 billion due

to bond holders by January 10 without a legally constituted administration.

Rajapakse's son Namal had announced Friday that his father who as

president ended Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009 amid allegations of grave

rights abuses would throw in the towel to ensure stability.

Rajapakse's decision came after the Supreme Court confirmed that he could

not exercise the powers of a prime minister until he proved his legitimacy,

which without enough support in parliament was impossible.

In a major climbdown, Sirisena agreed on Friday to reinstate

Wickremesinghe on Sunday despite previously insisting he would never in his

lifetime reappoint him as prime minister.

There was no immediate comment from Sirisena or his office on Saturday.

But an MP from his party, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, told reporters on Friday

night that the president agreed to the latest measures to avoid a government

shutdown after December 31.

If the stalemate continued, we would have ended up without a budget for

2019 and the government would not have been able to function, Abeywardena

said.

On Wednesday, the legislature had voted overwhelmingly to demand the

reinstatement of Wickremesinghe.

The leftist JVP, or the People's Liberation Front, insists that Sirisena

should be investigated for orchestrating what they call a coup and that there

should also be an impeachment process.

On Thursday Sirisena suffered a major blow when the Supreme Court ruled

that he had breached the constitution on November 9 by dissolving parliament

and calling early elections.

His sacking of parliament had earlier been suspended, but the legislature

descended into farce on multiple occasions with MPs throwing punches, hurling

projectiles and chili powder and boycotting proceedings.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)