Sri Lankan Lawmakers Throw Punches, Chili Powder in Mass Parliament Brawl

Punch-up in Sri Lankan parliament as thousands rally

A brawl broke out in Sri Lanka’s parliament on Friday featuring MPs throwing punches, chairs, and chili powder at each other.

Sri Lanka is currently undergoing a major political crisis following the president’s sudden expulsion of the nation’s prime minister nearly a month ago.

Fighting broke out after a group of lawmakers loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country’s disputed prime minister, physically prevented Speaker Karu Jayasuriya from taking his chair for almost an hour in protest at his refusal to accept the new government.

Footage and photos from inside the parliament showed rival MPs pushing and punching one another, while some threw pieces of furniture and chili powder at their opponents and police officers trying to contain the violence.

The incident followed similar scuffles that broke out on Thursday morning when supporters of Rajapaksa charged at Jayasuriya over his refusal to accept the new government. As the situation escalated, over three dozen lawmakers dressed in traditional white cotton robes began brawling with one another.

One member, Palitha Thewarapperuma of the United National Party, appeared to be carrying a large knife, while Dilum Amunugama, a Rajapaksa loyalist, was wounded as he attempted to steal the speaker’s microphone and was later taken to the hospital.

Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis began three weeks ago, when the country’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, suddenly decided to sack the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replace him with Rajapaksa, a move that many have argued is unconstitutional.

Sirisena failed to obtain enough votes to oust Wickremesinghe from his position immediately and has instead decided to dissolve parliament and call a snap election. The Supreme Court blocked the move this week, pending an investigation, thus leaving the country’s executive branch in limbo.

Both men are now arguing they are the rightful prime minister and both sides’ supporters refuse to back down. On Wednesday, lawmakers passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa, although his supporters refused to accept its legitimacy.

In a speech to parliament on Thursday morning, amid jeers and shouts of support, Rajapaksa claimed he had taken on the prime ministership to rescue the country from Wickremesinghe’s corruption and weak leadership, not out of a lust for power.

“Even though the prime ministership and the presidency is a big deal to you, it’s not for me,” he declared. “When the president hands the country over to us in order to prevent a major catastrophe from taking place, it is our duty to accept that responsibility. I suggest that we take this matter before the 15 million-plus voters in the country instead of trying to resolve it among the 225 persons sitting in this house.”

Speaker Jayasuriya has confirmed he will reconvene parliament on Monday for its routine sessions.

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