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Protesters Urge Reopening Of Sri Lankan Parliament - 2001-08-23

A large opposition rally in Sri Lanka's capital passed peacefully, hours after a rebel attack claimed 15 lives and left 26 injured at an eastern military base. The protesters called for Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga to reopen parliament.

Thousands gathered in a carnival atmosphere for an opposition protest in Colombo.

The city had braced itself for a repeat of last month's violence when police clashed with opposition demonstrators leaving two-dead and dozens injured. But in stark contrast on Thursday, ice cream vendors did brisk business while small groups danced around drummers.

During the rally, a leader of Sri Lanka's main opposition United National Party Tyronne Fernando said the government realized that last month's violence was a mistake. "I think the July 19th thing was totally counter productive from the view of the government," Mr. Fernando said. "The entire international community focused on that and they came off very, very badly."

The opposition called for Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga to reconvene parliament and face a pending no-confidence motion. Mrs. Kumaratunga suspended parliament in July, soon after losing her parliamentary majority following the June firing of a key political ally.

Earlier, Tamil rebels staged their third attack in as many days in the country's east. The attack on two military camps left dozens of soldiers and rebel fighters dead and wounded. Sri Lanka's air force responded by bombing rebel positions in area.

Wednesday, rebels blew up a bus near the eastern town of Trincomalee, wounding 15 civilians, and Tuesday rebels used modified tractors to overrun a camp near the town of Ampara, leaving 23 dead.

Tamil rebels began fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east in 1983. The string of attacks marks the most significant escalation this year in a war that has claimed more than 64,000 lives.

The Norwegian supported peace process is just one casualty of the ongoing political crisis. Analysts say with leaders distracted from talks and the conflict heating up, Sri Lanka's tourist and import dependent economy is also suffering.

Opposition leaders say they will cautiously accept a new government offer to negotiate and break the political deadlock. But the festive mood at the rally, can not disguise that Sri Lanka has little to celebrate.