Asia

Sri Lanka's Sirisena calls India over 'murder plot'

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second left) shakes hands with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (right) in the presence of Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sri Lanka's president (R) told India's PM (2nd L) that reports of him saying India was trying to kill him were untrue

Sri Lanka's president has called India's prime minister to deny a report that quoted him as saying the Indian secret service was plotting to kill him.

Maithripala Sirisena told Narendra Modi he "categorically rejected" the report, carried in The Hindu newspaper.

It said Mr Sirisena had made the statement at a cabinet meeting to the "shock" of assembled ministers.

Embarrassing headlines have dogged Mr Sirisena in recent weeks.

Last month, he raged at the country's national airline for serving him cashew nuts "which were not fit for human consumption".

Within a week he was in the headlines again after recalling the country's ambassador to Austria and his entire staff for not answering the official embassy phones.

He said he had made his staff call all six of the embassy's phones for more than four hours but to no avail.

His phone call to Mr Modi came hours after his government had officially denied the report.

India's ministry of external affairs released a statement which said Mr Sirisena had told Mr Modi that he was a close personal friend and also a "true friend of Sri Lanka", while calling the "mischievous and malafide" story "utterly baseless and false".

It added that Mr Modi had "appreciated the prompt steps" to reject the report and had reiterated India's commitment to developing stronger ties with its neighbour.

While Mr Sirisena's denial and assurances appear to have mollified its much larger and more powerful neighbour, the incident has left the Sri Lankan government embarrassed.

Prior to the phone conversation with Mr Modi, India's high commissioner had visited Mr Sirisena to seek clarification on his alleged comment.

The Hindu report comes a month after a local police informant publicly alleged that there was a plot to kill President Sirisena and the country's former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

A senior police official that he accused of involvement in the alleged assassination plot was suspended and subjected to an inquiry, while an Indian national who had visited the informant was also arrested.

Government officials say they have not found any evidence to support these claims so far.

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