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Detained Lankan Opposition Leader Appears in Parliament to Demand Freedom

There has been a dramatic opening to Sri Lanka's parliament session. The jailed opposition leader, former Army chief of staff Sarath Fonseka, was temporarily released to attend and he called his detention illegal and demanded his fellow lawmakers stand up for freedom.

Of the 225 lawmakers who filed into Sri Lanka's parliament for the new session, only one arrived with an escort of guards.

The former general, who made a risky losing bid for the presidency in January against incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, won a seat in the April 8 legislative elections, even though he has been in detention since February.

Fonseka faces two court martials for allegedly planning his entry into politics while still in uniform and for improper procurement.

Speaking to parliament at the opening session, he demanded that the people of the island nation have the right to different political views, without risking being sent to jail.

Fonseka says he hopes all the lawmakers will unite to defend the rights to fair play, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. He said, as a victim of injustice, he is happy he could enter parliament for the first time, to state his views.

His comments were not carried on state television during its coverage of the session.

The United States has called on the new government, which won the majority of parliament seats in this month's election, to continue the healing process following the end of the quarter-century civil war.

The president and his top army general were allies, and were both hailed as national heroes, in the successful campaign to defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels in the north and east of the ethnically-divided island.

Both Mr. Rajapaksa and his former top military chief are ethnic Sinhalese, as are the majority of people on the South Asian island.

After the battlefield defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the top political party representing the minority ethnic group, the Tamil National Alliance, said it was prepared to accept regional self-rule instead of outright independence.