COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Thousands of Sri Lankans marched in the capital on Tuesday to demand the president immediately convene Parliament to resolve a deepening political crisis following his sacking of the prime minister.
More than 10,000 people, including lawmakers and rights activists, marched in Colombo, shouting slogans and displaying banners and placards. They then held a rally near the official residence of the dismissed prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The protest came a day after Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya warned of possible violence if lawmakers are not summoned immediately.
President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet on Friday and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. On Saturday, Sirisena suspended Parliament in an apparent move to give Rajapaksa time to muster enough support to survive any no-confidence vote.
Wickremesinghe has demanded the reconvening of Parliament, saying he still controls a majority of the lawmakers.
Sirisena's moves have triggered a power struggle and some observers say it has created a constitutional crisis.
Demonstrators held placards reading "Let's defeat dictatorship that undermines the constitution, restore democracy, uphold the constitution and convene Parliament to end crisis."
Addressing the protesters, Wickremesinghe said Sirisena has used his executive powers against democracy, sidelining Parliament.
"We are gathered here to safeguard democracy in the country," he said.
Demonstrators condemned Sirisena's move.
"This is a very indecent and anti-democratic move by President Sirisena. We voted him to power and we will struggle and make sure that he will go home soon," said Cyril Ranasinghe, a 59-year-old farmer.
Edward Udayadas, a researcher, said he joined the protest because he wants democracy. "This move is unconstitutional. We want justice. I am here as a Sri Lanka citizen to protect democracy," he said.
On Sunday, two people died and one was wounded in a shooting at the Petroleum Ministry, the first violence related to the political turmoil.
The U.S. has said it is following the events "with concern" and called on Sirisena to reconvene Parliament.
Sirisena said he sacked Wickremesinghe mainly because of the involvement of a Cabinet minister in an alleged plot to assassinate Sirisena. He did not reveal details of the alleged plot. Wickremesinghe has rejected Sirisena's accusation.
Sirisena's supporters have talked for weeks about an alleged plot, but Sunday was the first time Sirisena commented publicly about it.
A police informant named Namal Kumara told reporters on Sunday that Wickremesinghe and a Cabinet colleague, former army commander Sarath Fonseka, were behind the alleged plot.
Police are investigating the report of a plot, but no arrests have been made.
On Monday, Fonseka said they are being threatened with arrest. "We are ready to go to prisons. We are not afraid. We have faced similar situations," he said, accusing Sirisena of taking unconstitutional and undemocratic moves to "to advance his political career."
Rajapaksa supporters have demanded that Wickremesinghe vacate his official residence or face forced eviction.
Tensions have been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena was also critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka's long civil war, which ended in 2009.