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Sri Lanka's President Declares State of Emergency


Sri Lanka's president has declared a state of emergency after effectively suspending the government, which has been pursuing peace with Tamil rebels. The president says the truce will not be affected, but, the political crisis in the country is deepening.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga used her authority to declare a 10-day state of emergency. The move gives her sweeping powers to enact laws, have security forces to arrest and detain suspects, and provides for tight censorship.

Tuesday, the president fired top ministers, suspended parliament, and deployed troops in the capital. She acted while her political rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, visited the United States.

The president says she is acting to protect the country's interests. Mrs. Kumaratunga has been severely critical of the government's handling of peace negotiations, saying too many concessions have been made before the rebels are disarmed.

But just before the state of emergency was imposed, a presidential aide, Lakshman Kadirgamar told a news conference a truce with Tamil rebels is not in jeopardy.

"The president has no intention whatsoever of resuming or provoking the resumption of hostilities," said Lakshman Kadirgamar.

The cease-fire was signed in February 2002. It ended 20 years of civil war waged by Tamil rebels for a separate homeland and set a peace process rolling.

The Tamil rebels say they are monitoring the situation, while the prime minister's negotiators say they plan to push ahead to arrange another round of talks.

The talks had been stalled for months. That deadlock appeared to be broken this past week when the rebels presented their ideas for an interim administration for Sri Lanka's war-torn north and east, so talks could resume on permanent political settlement for the 20-year conflict.

Political analyst Paikisasothy Saravanamuttu, at the independent Center for Policy Alternatives, says this situation is basically a power struggle between the president and prime minister.

"With the state of emergency I would think the president wants to preclude any kind of public unrest or anything like that, but it would also be charged that she wants to prevent any kind of public political demonstration in support of the prime minister," he said.

The political crisis has raised widespread concern in Sri Lanka, and overseas, about its impact on the fragile peace process.

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