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Sri Lanka President Forms Alliance with Marxists - 2004-01-20

In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga's party has entered into an alliance with a Marxist group. The move could deepen the political crisis in the country.

A signing ceremony sealing the pact between President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Marxist People's Liberation Front was shown live on state television.

The president's party called it a broad patriotic alliance.

An agreement between the two parties says they oppose Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's handling of the peace process with Tamil rebels. It also says they want to prevent the creation of a separate state by Tamil Tigers in the north and east.

But political analyst Kethesh Loganathan at the Center of Policy Alternatives in Colombo sees the alliance as a signal that the country may head into early general elections.

"I think the indications are that the signing of the pact could well be the precursor, the forerunner for elections," he said. "Despite the high moral ground and the rationale being espoused by the two parties, it is also a fact that it is an electoral alliance."

Analysts say President Kumratunga party's alliance with the left-wing nationalists also shows that the current political crisis is not being resolved. The impasse was triggered by President Kumaratunga's takeover of three crucial ministries from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in November.

The power struggle between the two leaders prompted Norwegian mediators to put peace negotiations with Tamil rebels on hold.

The president is elected separately from the prime minister. Her party lost general elections in 2001, but she has wide-ranging powers under the constitution, including the authority to dissolve parliament and call early elections.

The parties in the new alliance say they support negotiations with the Tamil rebels, but are opposed to proposals made by the rebels for power-sharing in the territories they control.

Tamil rebels warned Monday that the political divide in Sri Lanka threatens the fragile truce that has held for two years, the longest time in 20 years.

The peace process has won wide international support, but there are fears that it could lose momentum due to the continuing political stand off.