Sri Lanka's PM Returns to Colombo

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Nov 7 16:22:13 UTC 2003

Sri Lanka's PM Returns to Colombo

Patricia Nunan


Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has returned to a hero's welcome in
the Sri Lankan capital Colombo for a showdown with his political rival,
the president. His return from overseas comes as authorities announced
they had withdrawn plans to implement a state of emergency across the
country. Tens of thousands lined the streets outside the airport to
celebrate the return of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Swarmed by officials and supporters at the airport, Mr. Wickremesinghe
says his priority is to reconvene Parliament - which his political rival,
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, has suspended for two weeks. That way the
government can proceed with peace talks with rebels from the Tamil Tigers
guerrilla group, called the LTTE. "Parliament is the only institution
which has a mandate from the people to engage in a dialogue discussion
with the LTTE to find a political solution including the establishment of
an interim council," he said. "Within that Parliament, the people have
given this government a majority."

President Kumaratunga precipitated a political crisis on Tuesday, when she
suspended Parliament, fired three top government ministers, and announced
plans to impose a state of emergency across the country. Later, she
declared she had taken over all state media. On Friday, authorities said
the state of emergency would not be implemented.

President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have always had a
difficult relationship. The president says the prime minister has been too
lenient in talks with the Tamil Tigers - members of the Tamil ethnic
minority who had been fighting for an independent homeland in northern Sri
Lanka for 20 years. The group signed a cease-fire with the government last
year. All of President Kumaratunga's decisions this week fell within her
constitutional powers - and she did not violate any laws. She said she was
working to defend national security, and promised to continue peace talks
with the rebels.  But the moves raised concerns that she had jeopardized
the peace process.

"An action taken in the name of security may well have created a situation
of insecurity - hopefully, only in the short-term," said Paikiasothy
Saravanamuttu, an analyst at the Center for Policy Alternatives, a
think-tank in Colombo. A Web site quoting a Tamil Tigers commander accused
Ms. Kumaratunga of scuttling the peace process just when it was going in
the right direction.  But the commander also said the group would look
"soberly" at the political situation in the capital.

President Kumaratunga is expected to address the nation on television
later Friday.

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