- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Lawyers and rights activist on Wednesday demanded Sri Lanka’s chief justice resign because he is being investigated for involvement in an alleged coup plot soon after this month’s presidential election.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court accused Mohan Peiris of undermining the judiciary’s independence and integrity by being partial to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was voted out of office earlier this month.

Police have questioned Peiris over his presence at Rajapaksa’s official residence when results of the Jan. 8 election were being announced. The new government has complained that Rajapaksa discussed with military, police and legal officials ways he could illegally stay in power when early voting results indicated he was losing.

Rajapaksa was widely credited for leaving office peacefully after he lost, but the subsequent coup allegation has raised doubts about what really happened. Rajapaksa has denied the allegation.

Peiris was a Rajapaksa aide who was installed as chief justice after the then-government impeached the incumbent, a move that drew wide international condemnation as an arbitrary act of revenge.

The demonstrators at the court shouted slogans demanding Peiris be removed.

Gunaratna Wanninayake, the convener of the activist group Lawyers’ Collective, said Peiris “is not fit to be the chief justice as he has been involved in politics and took part in foreign trips with politicians and visited their homes.”

Besides, his presence at Rajapaksa’s official residence on the day of election “has also raised serious doubts about his independence and it has also damaged his reputation as a judge.”

Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera complained last week that Rajapaksa and others conspired to impose a state of emergency to stay in office illegally, but that the attorney general and the military and police chiefs opposed the move.

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