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Members of Suspended Parliament Criticize Sri Lanka President - 2003-11-19


Members of Sri Lanka's Parliament have stridently attacked President Chandrika Kumaratunga for suspending Parliament two weeks ago. She shut down parliament as part of a plan to weaken her rival, the prime minister, and the move plunged the country into political turmoil.

Many Sri Lankan lawmakers launched a tirade against President Chandrika Kumaratunga as soon as Parliament reopened Wednesday. They say legislators should have the right to convene Parliament any time they want.

The president's supporters in Parliament fought back, leading to shouting matches and an overall raucous day in the legislature.

Ms. Kumaratunga exercised her constitutional right to suspend Parliament and take control of three government ministries on November 4. Her moves intensified the long-running rivalry she has with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is from a different political party.

In the past two weeks, Ms. Kumaratunga and Mr. Wickremesinghe have met twice to seek ways to end their dispute. On Tuesday, they announced a new committee that will hammer out the details on how the two leaders can work together in the future.

It could be that the worst of the political crisis is over. Jehan Perera is with the National Peace Council, an advocacy group in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. He says if the stalemate continues, the president could call an early election.

"I think it is a realization that escalating the conflict will only lead to damage to both sides - in particular they would have to go to an election," said Mr. Perera. "And I think really both sides don't want an election."

The political dispute has stalled efforts to form a lasting peace with Tamil rebels. Sri Lanka is slowly emerging from nearly 20 years of fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tigers. The two sides signed a cease-fire last year, and they are discussing power-sharing proposals for the areas where the ethnic Tamils are in the majority.

But the political crisis has thrown into question whether the peace plan can be sustained. Norway, which brokered the cease-fire, postponed further involvement in talks until the political crisis is resolved.

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