COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president fired the justice minister on Wednesday for criticizing government policies, including a decision to sell a majority of shares in a seaport to China.

President Maithripala Sirisena approved a request by his United National Party to dismiss Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, the president’s office said.

The party accused Rajapakse of breaching the collective responsibility of Cabinet ministers by criticizing the port deal and other government policies as well as some of his colleagues.

The party said it asked Rajapakse last week to correct his statements by Aug. 21, but he failed to so and continued to criticize ministers and policies over the weekend.

Some party members also accused Rajapakse of using his position to delay filing corruption charges against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family, a key pledge of the Sirisena government that was elected in January 2015.

The dismissed minister, who is not related to the former president, has denied the allegation.

Sri Lanka’s government last month signed a long-delayed agreement to sell a 70 percent stake in a $1.5 billion port to China for 99 years in a bid to recover from the heavy burden of repaying a Chinese loan obtained to build the facility. The agreement has drawn public criticism and protests, with opposition parties and farmers saying it was akin to a sellout of the country.

Rajapakse also called the lease a sellout and said he would ensure that the port is taken back for the benefit of Sri Lankans.

The port is part of Beijing’s so-called string-of-pearls plan for a line of ports stretching from its waters to the Persian Gulf.

China’s influence in Sri Lanka makes neighboring India anxious because it considers the Indian Ocean region to be its strategic backyard. Sirisena has been trying to balance both Asian giants.

Sri Lankan officials have reiterated that the port’s security will be handled by the government in an attempt to allay fears that the port could be used by China as a military hub.


This story has been corrected to fix spelling of minister’s name in 5th paragraph to Rajapakse instead of Rajapaksa.

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BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI
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