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Violent clashes erupt in Colombo over Fonseka arrest

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 20:13

Colombo: Tensions mounted over the arrest
of Sri Lanka`s former army chief Sarath Fonseka with violent
clashes erupting in the capital 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 last night allowed his wife to meet him, a top
military official said today.

"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 agency.

The 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 Fonseka`s,
who is being held at the naval headquarters, life 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 today 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 last
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 today 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 for looking into 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 husting.
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.

PTI

First Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 20:13

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