M A I N   N E W S

Lankan Parliament suspended
* Kumaratunga acts in PM’s absence * 3 ministers sacked
* Army deployed

Sri Lankan troops guard the government press
Sri Lankan troops guard the government press in Colombo on Tuesday after President Chandrika Kumaratunga suspended Parliament. — Reuters photo

Colombo, November 4
In a surprise move, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga today sacked three key ministers, suspended Parliament and deployed troops while her arch-rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was away in Washington, throwing the country into political crisis and raising questions over the future of the faltering peace process.

“Several platoons” of troops have been deployed at the state printing press, television, radio and power stations to “prevent any disturbances,” military spokesman Col Sumedha Perera said.

The President, who has wide executive powers and has been at loggerheads with the Prime Minister over the peace process, caught the cohabitation government by surprise by first dismissing Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, Interior Minister John Amaratunga and Information Minister Imthiaz Bakeer Markar.

She also removed the bureaucrats responsible for the day-to-day running of the three ministries and took control of them, officials said. The three ministers still hold other Cabinet-level posts.

Shortly afterwards, Kumaratunga, who is also commander of the armed forces, ordered the legislature to be prorogued till November 19, forcing the government to shelve plans to present its annual budget on November 12, and deployed troops at key installations.

In a statement, Kumaratunga’s office said the ministers were sacked “after careful consideration in order to prevent further deterioration of the security situation in the country,” but did not elaborate. No reason was given for the suspension of Parliament.

The police has been put on maximum alert with all leave of policemen cancelled for an indefinite period in accordance with Kumaratunga’s order, acting police Inspector-General Indra De Silva said.

Kumaratunga’s move came four days after the Tamil Tiger rebels submitted a power-sharing proposal to resolve the country’s ethnic conflict. She has been openly critical of Wickremesinghe’s handling of the peace process, saying he was making too many concessions without making sure that the LTTE gave up their armed struggle.

Wickremesinghe is in Washington, where he is to meet US President George W. Bush tomorrow. The Prime Minister is scheduled to return home on Friday.

Sacked Interior Minister John Amaratunga described Kumaratunga’s action as “undemocratic” and said an emergency Cabinet meeting had decided on a “certain course of action,” which would be made known tomorrow.

Kumaratunga has been at loggerheads with the three sacked ministers for sometime over their handling of the peace process.

Earlier this year, she had issued a decree taking over the functions of another minister, but it could not be printed in the government gazette as the government resisted the move. This time, she sent armed troops to guard the printing press soon after sacking the ministers. — PTI

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