* Elite police force deployed at Supreme Court
* Lawyers protest against the appointment
* Supreme Court says removal of former justice illegal
By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO, Jan 15 Sri Lanka's President Mahindra
Rajapaksa appointed a close ally as chief justice on Tuesday,
two days after he controversially sacked the country's top judge
for impeachment in the face of opposition from the Supreme
Mohan Peiris, Rajapaksa's cabinet lawyer and former attorney
general, was sworn-in amid tight security at the Supreme Court
as dozens of lawyers held candles in protest outside the
traditional building in central Colombo.
Shirani Bandaranayake's dismissal has threatened a
constitutional crisis in the small island state which has slowly
been finding its feet after a quarter century-long civil war
ended in 2009.
The Supreme Court had ruled that Bandaranayake's removal was
illegal, prompting the United States and United Nations to voice
Opposition lawmakers, religious leaders and lawyers have
also expressed outrage after parliament, controlled by
Rajapaksa's party, voted to impeach the country's first female
chief justice on Friday.
Bandaranayake's rapid fall from favour and the resulting
clash between the government and judiciary has underlined the
power wielded by Rajapaksa and his family in the island nation,
where he has been president since 2005.
Presidential spokesman Mohan Samaranayake told Reuters that
Peiris was sworn in on Tuesday.
Around 100 special taskforce police officers were deployed
at the country's Supreme Court on Tuesday ahead of the
swearing-in, as lawyers protested Peiris's appointment at the
"Let's rise against the dictatorship. Today marks the
funeral of the independent judiciary," said Sunil Watagala, a
member of Lawyers Collective, a judicial activist group, as
other lawyers blew out candles to symbolise the start of a dark
era in the court.
Lawyers Collective has urged all Supreme Court judges not to
accept Peiris's appointment. The Centre for Policy Alternatives,
a think tank, filed a fundamental rights petition on Tuesday to
prevent Peiris accepting the appointment, which was ignored.
Bandaranayake fell from favour with Rajapaksa after she
ruled that the president's younger brother, Basil Rajapaksa,
would need to seek further approvals for his proposal of a $614
million development budget.
"The legal paternity is not ready to accept the puppet
appointed by the authoritarian executive," said Srinath Perera,
Peiris, a 38-year veteran of the legal profession, has
served as state counsel, attorney general and legal adviser to
the Sri Lankan Cabinet of Ministers.
Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a note that
Peiris, known for his closeness to the Rajapaksa family, could
run into a risk of being questioned by the Supreme Court or
Court of Appeals on the legality of any decision he makes.