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Sri Lanka Justices to Hear Appeal on Presidential Candidate's Arrest

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has cleared the way for an appeal to be heard challenging the arrest of former military chief and Presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka.

The Sri Lankan high court has cleared the way for a hearing later this month on a fundamental rights petition concerning the detention of former General Fonseka. Justices also ordered the government to allow him to have access to visiting family members and medicine.

The political opposition contends Fonseka's arrest Monday on conspiracy charges was illegal. A day after Fonseka was taken into custody, the President dissolved Parliament, clearing the way for legislative elections in April.

The leader of the political opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa Friday, urging him to release the detained former presidential candidate, who faces a military court martial.

The arrest has sparked violent clashes in the streets of Colombo this week.

The United Nations, the United States, European Union and India have issued statements calling for a fair legal process and respecting the rights of the opposition amid fears of a further crackdown on political opponents of the President.

The head of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Foundation, newspaper editor B.M. Murshideen, tells VOA News there is a mood of apprehension about what might happen next.

"People have a kind of fear to talk because, still, the implementation of emergency law is there. It is already extended. So anything can happen any time under the emergency law in this country," he said. "Even the political parties are facing problems."

During the presidential election, both the incumbent and the top challenger campaigned as war heroes. Both took credit for last year's crushing defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels, which ended a quarter-century civil war.

In the campaign, the political wing of the former rebels, the Tamil National Alliance, supported the former Army commander. But the majority Sinhalese mostly cast their votes for President Rajapaksa, giving him a convincing victory in the January 26 election.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo has rebutted a claim by Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa that Washington supplied financial support to Fonseka for his election campaign. The Defense Secretary - who is the President's brother - has also contended the ex-General planned to overthrow the government.

The opposition says election ballots were rigged during the counting process, but the Election Commissioner concluded there were no such irregularities.

Fonseka, who was a four-star general, quit as military chief after complaining the President sidelined him following the war. He then entered politics and spoke of his willingness to testify internationally about alleged war crimes committed in the final offensive.

A former United Nations spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, told an Australian TV news program this week that as many as 40-thousand mostly Tamil civilians may have died in the war's final weeks at the hands of both governing shelling and rebel shooting.