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Emergency in Lanka
Majority intact, says govt; Chandrika cancels India visit

Emergency in Sri LankaColombo, November 5
The political crisis in Sri Lanka deepened today, with President Chandrika Kumaratunga declaring a state of Emergency, a day after sacking three key ministers and suspending Parliament, throwing the peace process undertaken by arch-rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe into uncertainty.

Amid criticism and growing concern over the fate of the fragile peace process, she pledged her commitment to the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, and declared that she had no intention of “resuming” or “provoking” hostilities with the rebels.

Seen as a “constitutional coup” against Mr Wickremesinghe, who is in Washington for talks with US President George W. Bush, Ms Kumaratunga used her executive powers to impose Emergency, giving sweeping authority to the security forces to make arrests as troops were deployed at key installations and the police put on maximum alert throughout the country.

The extraordinary laws would be imposed for a period of 10 days, the maximum period allowed without parliamentary approval.

Ms Kumaratunga’s International Affairs Adviser Lakshman Kadirdamar told reporters that “the President has specifically asked me to state that the ceasefire agreement (with the rebels) stands and will stand and there is no question about it”.

Kadirgamar said “the President has no intention of resuming or provoking the resumption of hostilities”, and charged that “interested parties” were “sending signals” to the LTTE that she was trying to end the truce.

Chief government negotiator G.L. Peiris said there were no changes in the plans to have direct talks with the rebels.

“We are going ahead to arrange that preliminary meeting,” he said, admitting that with the sacking of Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, the government had no control over the implementation of the truce.

Besides the Defence Minister, Ms Kumaratunga yesterday fired the Interior Minister, the Information Minister and their secretaries, prorogued Parliament till November 19 and deployed troops around the capital.

Mr Wickremesinghe accused Ms Kumaratunga of bringing the country to the verge of anarchy and chaos. Reacting to the developments, the USA warned that the political crisis could damage moves to end the civil war in Sri Lanka.

A US State Department spokesman said Washington firmly supported the Sri Lankan Government’s peace efforts and urged the President and the Prime Minister to work together.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hoped that Ms Kumaratunga’s sweeping political changes would not derail the peace process, which has the backing of the UN.

The European Union also warned that the developments could endanger the progress in the peace process.

Ms Kumaratunga’s Sri Lankan Freedom Party, which is in the Opposition in Parliament, had expressed concern over the Tigers’ proposal for a self-governing authority in the northeast of the country.

Meanwhile, flaying the imposition of Emergency in Sri Lanka, the United National Front (UNF) government today said it continued to enjoy majority and accused Ms Kumaratunga of acting in an undemocratic manner, which could jeopardise the fragile peace process in the country.

The UNF said it still had a majority in the 225-member Parliament and vowed to act democratically to execute the mandate given by the people in the December, 2001, elections.

Chief government whip and Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said 124 members from the United National Party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the Ceylon Workers’ Congress and the Tamil National Alliance had signed a letter to demonstrate their support and confidence in the UNF government.

He said one member from President Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance had also signed the letter, conveying his support to the government.

New Delhi: Political developments in Sri Lanka have forced President Chandrika Kumaratunga to cancel her proposed visit to New Delhi this week, High Commission sources here said.

Ms Kumaratunga was scheduled to reach here on November 7 on a four-day private visit. — PTI, UNI

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