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Sri Lanka's ex-leader to step down as party boss

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s former leader Mahinda Rajapakse has agreed to step down as head of his party, clearing the way for the country’s new president to take full control, an aide said Thursday.

President Maithripala Sirisena had been the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), but was kicked out of the party ahead of elections after he broke from Rajapakse in November to become the common opposition candidate.

Sirisena, who toppled longtime strongman Rajapakse in last week’s polls, claimed the party leadership following the vote but Rajapakse’s loyalists initially refused to back him, threatening to split the party.

“He (Rajapakse) met with President Sirisena on Wednesday night and discussed the future of the SLFP,” the aide told AFP.

“It was decided that at a (policy making) central committee meeting on Friday, Mr. Sirisena will be confirmed as the new leader of the party.”

Sirisena’s election bid was backed by a coalition of opposition parties after he defected from the Rajapakse government while serving as health minister to run for president.

Party sources said his expulsion from the SLFP, however, had never been ratified.

Sources close to the new government said Sirisena was trying to forge a national unity administration before calling fresh parliamentary elections by the end of April.

The government has lodged a formal complaint with the police Criminal Investigations Department into allegations Rajapakse tried to use military force to remain in power after losing last week’s election.

The former president, who has denied the claim, also faces accusations of misuse of public funds and nepotism.

Rajapakse’s family stands accused of amassing huge wealth during his 10-year rule.

Police say they are investigating the disappearance of a fleet of luxury presidential cars as he vacated his official residence. (AFP)

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