Sri Lankan lawmakers impeach chief judge

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Associated Press

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 11 at 10:35 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to impeach the chief justice, deepening a standoff between the judiciary and the government, which is controlled by the country's most powerful family.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa will now decide whether Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake should be dismissed.

Last month, a parliamentary committee ruled that she had unexplained wealth and had misused her power. But an appeals court annulled the guilty verdict after the Supreme Court ruled that the committee had no legal power to investigate the allegations.

Bandaranayake denied the charges and said she had not been given a fair hearing.

The dispute is widely seen by jurists and rights activists as an attempt by the government to ensure a servile judiciary.

Rajapaksa enjoys the support of more than two-thirds of the 225-member Parliament. Lawmakers voted 155 to 49 on Friday to impeach her. Twenty lawmakers, including four from the ruling party who disagreed with the impeachment, were absent.

Bandaranayake, who had long been viewed as pro-government, faced the allegations after she issued a ruling against a law promoted by a member of Rajapaksa's family.

The government is largely controlled by the Rajapaksas, including the president's older brother Chamal Rajapaksa, the speaker of Parliament. Two more brothers run the ministries of defense and economic development. One of the president's sons is a member of Parliament.

Rights groups and the president's critics say he wants to remove the last obstacles to absolute power.

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