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SL: Violence over Fonseka's arrest, poll dates announced

By T V Sriram
February 10, 2010 18:37 IST
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Tensions mounted over the arrest of Sri Lanka's former army chief Sarath Fonseka with violent clashes erupting in Colombo as his wife approached the country's highest court for his release, citing that she feared for his safety.

Opposition parties in the country also closed ranks behind the jailed defeated presidential candidate, demanding his release and saying that the authorities were framing him.

As protests against the arrest spilled onto the streets, riot police used tear gas, water cannons and canes to break up thousands of clashing pro-Fonseka supporters and ruling party activists as the government said claimed that the arrest of the country's former four star general was 'not an act of vengeance'.

As jailed Fonseka's fate remains uncertain, the authorities on Tuesday night allowed his wife to meet him, a top military official said on Wednesday.

"Anoma Fonseka spent three hours at the place where Fonseka is and brought food from home for him last night," Military Spokesman Major General Prasad Samarasinghe told PTI.

Minister of Media Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena charged that the opposition was trying to gain political advantages from the arrest of the general. He said Fonseka had been arrested under military act 57(1) for divulging secrets while in service and it did not amount of political vengeance. Abeywardena said that a possible court martial would flow from the summary of evidence being collected by the military.

Trouble erupted as Fonseka's wife Anoma arrived at the Supreme Court premises to file a petition challenging hers husband's detention. Thousands of opposition supporters who had gathered there raised slogans against his arrest.

The court has fixed Friday for the hearing of Fonseka's detention case. Addressing a media conference, the minister explained that the former army chief was arrested by the military police, as investigations into his conduct while in the army were launched only after he retired from military service.

Opposition parties said they feared that the life of Fonseka, who is being held at the naval headquarters, is in danger. They said that the government was yet to spell out the charges against the former joint opposition candidate with the defence ministry spokesman Keheliya Rambukwalla merely telling reporters that the general had colluded with opposition politicians while still heading the army last year.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka on Wednesday announced the dates for snap parliamentary polls, which will be held on April 8. The schedule for the elections was announced after President Mahinda Rajapaksa dissolved the parliament on Tuesday night and a notification said that process of nomination of candidates would start from February 19.

The new parliament is scheduled to meet on April 22.

The opposition while welcoming early polls demanded that the process should be "free and fair" as their supporters held a rally outside the country's Supreme Court demanding release of Fonseka, who is being held on sedition charges.

The clash was the first salvo in what appears to be a violent campaign leading up to the parliamentary polls. The new elections follow an acrimonious tussle in the presidential elections, which saw President Mahinda Rajapaksa secure a landslide victory over Fonseka.

Asserting that the opposition was ready for the polls, United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Tissa Attanayake told a crowded press conference on Wednesday that the elections should "be free and fair and not like the presidential polls and the recent provincial council polls".

"Though in the dissolved parliament, the opposition had a majority of seats but it was reduced due to crossovers to the ruling alliance," Attanayake said.

He said the opposition will file a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to probe alleged presidential poll malpractices and to seek re-counting in the elections, which was won by Rajapaksa by over 1.8 million votes last month.

The Sri Lankan parliament follows the system of proportional representation, which besides direct elections is also based on the percentage of votes polled by individual parties in the hustings.

Meanwhile, the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is now conducting interviews to select candidates to contest for the upcoming general election. The new parliament will comprise of 196 elected members and 29 Members of Parliament from the National Lists of political parties and/or independent groups.

The present parliament elected in 2004 completes its tenure of six years in April this year. The UPFA came to power after defeating the UNP with 105 seats and the UNP winning 82 seats.
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T V Sriram Colombo
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