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Sri Lanka Political Crisis Deepens

Some fear president's move to assume more power may jeopardize a cease-fire with rebels.

November 06, 2003|From Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The president assumed sweeping powers today under a 10-day emergency order that intensified Sri Lanka's political crisis and undermined the prime minister while he was visiting Washington.

Aides insisted that President Chandrika Kumaratunga would not resume fighting the Tamil Tiger rebels in a two-decade conflict that is at the root of her feud with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Kumaratunga believes that the prime minister, a political rival, has been too soft on the rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

After meeting with President Bush on Wednesday in Washington, Wickremesinghe played down the developments in Sri Lanka, an island of 19 million people off southern India.

"This is part of Sri Lankan politics," he said. "For 25 years we have had these ups and downs."

Before the meeting, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said: "The United States strongly supports the peace process and strong democratic institutions in Sri Lanka."

The prime minister said that he had the support of a majority of Parliament and that he would get the peace process back on track after he returned home Friday.

In the Tamil-dominated north, there were concerns about a resumption of fighting after a 20-month cease-fire. Both the government and the rebels have put some of their forces on alert.

In Colombo, police carrying T-56 rifles boosted their presence near the president's residence today, stopping vehicles and carrying out searches. But the capital was mostly calm.

The crisis was ignited Tuesday when Kumaratunga dismissed three ministers who have been instrumental in the government's peace efforts, suspended Parliament for two weeks and deployed troops in the capital.

A day later, she announced the state of emergency.

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