November 1, 2018 / 5:42 AM / in 16 days

Sri Lanka's president to reconvene parliament on November 5, says new PM

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s president plans to call a session of parliament on Monday, the new prime minister said, a move that could help resolve a political crisis after the abrupt dismissal of his predecessor.

FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena listens to a speech during a Parliament session marking the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka's Government, in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo

Maithripala Sirisena named Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister last week after sacking the unity government of Ranil Wickremesinghe, prompting protests and a demand for parliament to be called, to allow lawmakers to choose their leader.

The return of Rajapaksa, a former president who crushed a decades-old Tamil insurgency, has stoked fears of fresh political and ethnic division in the island nation of 21 million mostly Sinhalese Buddhists, with Tamil and Muslim minorities.

Wickremesinghe has called his removal unconstitutional, and has demanded he be allowed to prove his parliamentary majority.

“The president has decided to reconvene parliament on the 5th,” Rajapaksa said during a meeting at the prime minister’s office on Thursday.

There was no immediate word from Sirisena’s office on convening parliament.

Earlier, Sirisena had prorogued parliament until Nov. 16, but political parties and foreign powers led by the United States and the EU urged an early session to resolve the crisis.

Political parties and diplomats say continuing uncertainty continues could fuel attempts by claimants to lure lawmakers with money and ministerial positions.

Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who has also warned of unrest in the streets if parliament was not called quickly, met Sirisena on Wednesday to persuade him to call an early session.

Since Sri Lanka was plunged into political crisis, its rupee currency has hit record lows, compounded by worries over a slowing economy. It stood at 173.70 to the dollar on Thursday, gaining slightly from dollar sales by the central bank, traders said.

“The political turmoil is putting downward pressure on the rupee,” Capital Economics said in a note. “If the currency continues to weaken, the central bank may be forced to hike interest rates, which would further weigh on growth prospects.”

Sri Lanka’s foreign currency debt, which is equivalent to about half its total debt, also makes it vulnerable to sudden currency falls, it added.

China is a top creditor, offering loans in return for control of sea ports and other infrastructure it is building in the country that lies along key shipping routes, as part of its Belt and Road initiative.

($1=173.8000 Sri Lankan rupees)

Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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