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Sri Lankan PM Determined to Continue Peace Process With Tamil Rebels - 2003-11-05

Sri Lanka's prime minister is downplaying the political crisis in his country, saying the peace process with Tamil rebels will continue. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met at the White House with President Bush where he got words of support from the United States.

The prime minister said Sri Lankan politics is full of ups and downs. "This is not the first crisis I have had. When I go back, I will sort it out," he said.

On Tuesday, President Chandrika Kumaratunga fired three key ministers, suspended parliament and deployed troops in the capital. Just hours before the prime minister went to the White House, she declared a 10-day state of emergency and assumed sweeping powers.

The prime minister says President Bush asked him about the latest developments in his country. During a brief session with reporters after the talks, Mr. Wickremesinghe stressed he has a majority in parliament, and his government is determined to continue its work. "I have a mandate to bring peace to the country and develop the country," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush repeated U.S. support for the prime minister and efforts to bring peace to Sri Lanka. "The president expressed confidence in the prime minister's leadership and he reaffirmed our strong support for the democratic institutions that are in place," he said.

Mr. McClellan stressed the Bush administration believes this is an internal matter for Sri Lanka that can be resolved.

But the latest political developments in Sri Lanka have raised questions about efforts to end the decades old conflict with Tamil rebels. The prime minister has accused the Sri Lankan president of sabotaging peace negotiations. The president has accused the prime minister of making too many concessions. But a key advisor to President Kumaratunga has said there will be no change in the 20-month-old ceasefire between the government and the rebels.