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Sri Lanka Crisis Talks End; Political Stalemate Continues

Talks between Sri Lanka's feuding prime minister and president have ended without solving the country's political crisis, which is threatening peace talks with Tamil rebels. But the two sides are agreeing meet again next week.

Aides to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe say talks with President Chandrika Kumaratunga were cordial. But the meeting yielded no resolution to the political stalemate except an agreement to meet again next week.

Sri Lanka was plunged into political crisis last week when President Kumaratunga took over three government ministries, suspended parliament and seized control of state media while the prime minister was in Washington. Ms. Kumaratunga says she was exercising her constitutional powers to protect national security.

Former Interior Minister John Amaratunga, one of three ministers fired by the president, expressed his concern "because the entire future of Sri Lanka's economy and peaceful co-existence, all that is resting on the peace process…. So if there is no settlement in the constitutional crisis that has arisen - all those things will come to a standstill and the whole country will suffer as a result."

President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have always had a strained relationship. Ms. Kumaratunga is especially critical of the prime minister's negotiations with the Tamil Tigers, which she says gives too much to the rebel group.

Now that the president has taken over the defense ministry, analysts say it is unclear whether she or the prime minister will handle peace negotiations, prompting fears that the peace plan might collapse.

Norwegian officials are in Colombo for talks on furthering peace negotiations with the Tamil Tigers. Norway brokered a ceasefire deal between the rebels and the government last year, which so far is holding. But officials fear the political crisis will delay new talks.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for more rights for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority for nearly 20 years. More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict.