Jan 28, 9:59 AM EST

Sri Lankan president reinstates impeached chief justice


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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Sri Lanka's new president has reinstated the country's chief justice, who was impeached two years ago after she refused to back a law granting wider powers to the former president's brother, the government said Wednesday.

In a statement, the president's office described Shirani Bandaranayake's ouster as illegal, and said it and her successor's appointment are now "null and void according to the law."

A senior court official said Bandaranayake reassumed her duties Wednesday afternoon but would retire after attending a farewell ceremony on Thursday. That would allow the government to appoint a new chief justice.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa built up immense power during his nine-year rule, including the ability to appoint the heads of formerly independent agencies. The government of new President Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated Rajapaksa in a Jan. 8 election, has been slashing the former leader's influence and investigating corruption allegations against his family.

Rajapaksa's government had accused Bandaranayake of misusing her power and amassing wealth. Her impeachment was widely condemned as an act of political revenge, and Rajapaksa appointed a close aide, Mohan Peiris, as her successor.

The senior court official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, did not explain why Badaranayake was quitting in a day, and the chief justice was not available for comment.

Earlier Wednesday, lawyers and activists demonstrated near the Supreme Court against Peiris, saying he undermined the judiciary's independence by being partial to Rajapaksa. They cited accusations of his involvement in an alleged coup plot by Rajapaksa immediately after the election.

Police have questioned Peiris over his presence at Rajapaksa's official residence when results of the election were being announced. A complaint from the new government alleges Rajapaksa discussed with his guests ways he could illegally stay in power when voting results indicated he was losing.

Peiris could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

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

Last week, the government pardoned and reinstated the rank of former army commander Sarath Fonseka, who was imprisoned four years ago after he challenged Rajapaksa in the 2010 presidential election. Fonseka said his imprisonment was a political vendetta against him for daring to run against Rajapaksa.

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