Sri Lanka lifts emergency laws after three decades

The government move comes ahead of next month`s United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

Colombo: Sri Lanka`s President announced on Thursday that draconian emergency laws imposed nearly 30 years ago to deal with the armed Tamil separatist movement were to be lifted.

"I am satisfied that there is no need to have the state of emergency any more," President Mahinda Rajapakse said in a speech to Parliament.

The laws, which give security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention, have been renewed on a monthly basis -- with only brief breaks -- ever since they were first imposed 28 years ago.

Rajapakse`s announcement means the regulations will lapse at the end of August, but similarly tough powers remain available to authorities under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe welcomed the decision, but said it had come too long after the final military victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

"For the past one year, we have been asking the government to end the state of emergency," he said.

The government move comes ahead of next month`s United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva which is expected to discuss Sri Lanka`s human rights record.

Sri Lanka has managed to stave off censure at UN fora thanks to the support of strong allies China and Russia.

The United States has been leading international calls for a war crimes investigation into the island`s crushing of rebels.

Tens of thousands of civilians perished in the final months of fighting and the United Nations has said there were "credible allegations" of war crimes committed by Sri Lankan forces, as well as the rebels.

Colombo has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and resisted foreign calls for a probe.

Opposition parties in Sri Lanka have accused the authorities of using the emergency laws to crack down against its political opponents, including student leaders and the independent press.

It was not immediately clear how many people are currently being held under emergency laws, and if they would be freed or re-detained under the PTA once the emergency is allowed to lapse at the end of this month.

Thousands of anti-government rebels are still being held without trial for long periods using the PTA.

The Tamil Tigers had spent four decades fighting for an independent homeland for the island`s ethnic Tamil minority.

Bureau Report

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