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Sri Lankan President Strikes Back at Prime Minister - 2003-11-07


Sri Lanka's president has struck back at her political rival, the prime minister, who she says has neglected issues of national security. In a nationally televised address, President Chandrika Kumaratunga also defended herself against allegations that she carried out a Constitutional coup earlier this week, when she fired three top ministers.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga says she had every right to fire the ministers, because, she said, they had neglected their duties to the nation.

"All that the president has done last Tuesday is to take back the powers that unquestionably and rightfully are accorded to the president by the Constitution, after these powers were exercised with callous irresponsibility," she said.

Sri Lanka was thrown into political turmoil when Ms. Kumaratunga fired the three ministers, suspended parliament, took control of state media and announced plans to institute a state of emergency which later was called off. Critics called the moves a constitutional coup.

Those decisions intensified the long-running power struggle between the president and her main political rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is a member of a different political party.

The president's moves also threw into question the fate of the peace process with rebels from the Tamil Tigers guerrilla group. The rebels have been fighting for two decades for a separate state in northern Sri Lanka for the ethnic Tamil minority, but signed a cease-fire deal with the government last year.

Ms. Kumaratunga says the prime minister can continue with the peace plan, but she will work to maintain national security. This is important, she says, because the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, have so far refused to give up any of their demands for the sake of peace.

"The LTTE has not yet agreed to even begin to come to terms with the core issues," said the president. "They have not yet given up their call for a separate state under whatever name it may be called. They have not agreed to give up terror and violence, nor even hinted that they would give up arms, even in the distant future."

Earlier Friday, a Tamil Tiger Internet Web site condemned the president's moves against the prime minister as an attempt to sabotage the peace process. But the group said it remained committed to the peace plan.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people turned out on the streets of the capital Friday to welcome Prime Minister Wickremesinghe home from a trip abroad, which included talks in Washington. He called for Parliament to be reconvened, so that the government could work to put the peace process back on track.

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