News World Push comes to shove – and how! – in full-fledged Sri Lankan parliament riot

Push comes to shove – and how! – in full-fledged Sri Lankan parliament riot

A chair goes flying across the chamber as police try to keep Sri Lanka's warring politicians apart. Photo: EPA
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Australia’s politicians have a well-deserved reputation for rowdy behaviour during question time, but they are angels in comparison with Sri Lankan parliamentarians whose full-volume abuse sparked a wild riot.

As a parliamentary steward protected the mace, traditional symbol of the legislature’s authority to write and pass laws, scores of members ran from their seats to besiege the speaker and hurl abuse, not to mention the odd punch and chair.

Oh, and just to add a bit more heat to the altercation, some of the more fired-up combatants began flinging chilli powder in their opponents’ faces.

The Indian Ocean nation has been paralysed since October 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse.

The wild melee erupted a day after a no-confidence vote against Mr Rajapaksa’s newly installed government was passed and his supporters vented their fury on speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who was physically restrained outside the chamber in a bid to stop him convening the session.

Freshly installed PM Mahinda Rajapaksa fends off attackers on the floor of Sri Lanka’s parliament. Photo: PA

Mr Jayasuriya forced his way inside, surrounded by an ad hoc posse consisting of unarmed police officers and parliamentary staffers.

Rioting MPs then seized his ornate throne in a further effort to stop him convening the session.

When an office chair was brought in as stop-gap replacement, things went from bellicose to full-blown berserk.

Mr Rajapakse’s supporters grabbed that chair as well, smashed it and flung the jagged pieces at rivals and police.

“We haven’t had a situation where the speaker was prevented from entering the chamber,” former sergeant-at-arms Wijaya Palliyaguruge said.

“This is also the first time that the speaker had to come in with police protection.”

Mr Wickremesinghe said the no-confidence vote proved Mr Rajapaksa’s administration was illegal and had no legal authority.

Tensions had been building between Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe for some time over controversial economic reforms.

Mr Sirisena has also accused Mr Wickremesinghe and another cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him – a claim Mr Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

The violent scenes have been so extraordinary that Britain’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, James Dauris, set aside customary diplomatic reticence to comment on a host nation’s affairs by taking to Twitter with a blast at the warring parties.

“Sri Lankans have again seen deplorable behaviour by some MPs, unbecoming of them and of their noble institution,” he said.

“No parliament can perform its role when its own members stop it from doing so.”

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