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Sri Lankan MP says telephone caller offered $2.8 million to back new PM

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan legislator on Friday said he had been offered $2.8 million and a ministerial post by a telephone caller from the opposite camp to switch his support to new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in a week-old political crisis.

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

President Maithripala Sirisena fired Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and named Rajapaksa in a surprise move last week that has drawn criticism from political parties and the international community.

Wickremesinghe called his sacking illegal and demanded a floor test in parliament to show he retains his majority. The session has been set for Wednesday, the speaker of parliament has said.

On Friday, a member of parliament from Wickremesinghe’s party, Palitha Range Bandara, said a caller from the Rajapaksa camp urged him to defect before the parliament session.

“A proxy for Rajapaksa called me today and offered 500 million rupees to support the new prime minister and they also offered a cabinet portfolio,” Bandara told Reuters.

He did not identify the caller but said he would go to the country’s anti-graft commission with a complaint.

Rajapaksa’s party dismissed the allegation. “We did not offer money to anybody, we don’t have money to offer to anybody,” said one of its legislators, Mahindananda Aluthgamage.

“If someone offered him money he can go to police and lodge a complaint.”

The speaker of parliament in the Indian Ocean island, Karu Jayasuriya, said Sirisena had agreed to call parliament on Nov. 7, following calls for an early session to end the crisis. But the president’s office has not yet issued a formal statement.

Critics say the longer he delays calling the legislature, the more allegations of defections and bribes will emerge.

Wickremesinghe’s United National Party said 118 lawmakers had met the speaker on Friday in a show of their strength in the 225-member parliament and to demand a parliament session.

“There are dealers going around and trying to buy MPs as if it is a marketplace. This is a shame to the dignity of the MPs,” Rauff Hakeem, a legislator, told Reuters after meeting the speaker.

The United States and the European Union have urged Sirisena to honour the constitution and said parliament must be allowed to choose its leader.

The European Union could deny Sri Lanka duty-free access to its market if the island backs off its rights commitments, the grouping’s envoy has said.

But Sirisena held his ground, saying he had told UN Secretary General António Guterres in a telephone conversation that his action accorded with the law.

“I assured him that the appointment of the new Prime Minister has been done in keeping with the constitution of Sri Lanka,” Sirisena said on social network Twitter.

($1=173.9000 Sri Lankan rupees)

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez