COLOMBO - International criticism mounted Saturday over a move to impeach Sri Lanka's top judge, with the island's leader urged to not ratify the sacking amid a deepening standoff between the government and judiciary.
Britain added its voice to the United States in expressing deep concern over parliament's overwhelming vote Friday night to sack Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake following a controversial trial by ruling party MPs.
Britain's foreign office said the rushed trial violated "due process and respect for the independence of the judiciary" as it called on the Sri Lankan government to "ensure the continued safety of... Bandaranayake".
A spokesman for President Mahinda Rajapakse said he was soon expected to ratify parliament's vote to impeach Bandaranayake, 54, the country's first woman to hold the highest judicial post in the island of 20 million people.
A replacement is to be named next week, but the Lawyers' Collective, which includes most of the 11,000 lawyers in the country, have said they will not recognise a new appointee and urged other judges to follow suit.
The 54-member Commonwealth urged Rajapakse to "consider fully the constitutional and other ramifications" before ratifying the sacking.
"I recognise that this is a matter for Sri Lanka, but am also conscious of our shared Commonwealth values and principles, to which Sri Lanka and all member governments have subscribed," said Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma. The island's privately-run Weekend FT reported the disputed parliamentary vote under the heading: "Chief's justice denied."
But the state-run Daily News defended the sacking with an editorial headlined: "It's over, and the future is bright!"
Former foreign minister and opposition spokesman Mangala Samaraweera described the impeachment as a final blow to democracy in a country emerging from a decades-long Tamil separatist war and a state of emergency lasting 28 years.
Before this "at least we kept up appearances of being at least a nominal democracy. But as of Friday night, the Rajapakse government sheds the facade and the country becomes a pariah of the international community," Samaraweera said.
There was no immediate comment from Bandaranayake or her lawyers who denied allegations of "misconduct" brought after she gave several decisions that went against the government in recent months.