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Paralysis in Sri Lanka, President clamps emergency
( 2003-11-06 09:20) (Agencies)

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared a state of emergency Wednesday, giving herself more powers in a bare-knuckled political fight with the prime minister that is threatening the peace with Tamil rebels.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who at first warned of chaos and anarchy, Wednesday tried to play down the crisis during an official visit to Washington. He said he would "sort it out" when he returned home Friday.

Wickremesinghe was in Washington when Kumaratunga, who is elected separately, fired the defense, interior and media ministers Tuesday and suspended parliament.

The state of emergency, a draconian law that allows detention for up to one year without charge, now widens Kumaratunga's powers and those of the military and includes bans on public assembly.

Despite the political paralysis, a presidential adviser said Kumaratunga would not end a 20-month truce with the Tamil Tigers, who seek a separate homeland for minority Tamils.

Kumaratunga has openly disagreed with Wickremesinghe over the peace process, saying the government was making too many concessions to the rebels.

"I am authorized by the president to tell you that the cease-fire agreement stands and will stand. There is no question about that," Lakshman Kadirgamar told reporters.

"The president has no intention of resuming or provoking the resumption of hostilities."

Although a small number of troops were deployed at key installations in Colombo, the capital was otherwise calm.

Kumaratunga's moves raised questions about the future of the prime minister and the direction of the peace bid. But Wickremesinghe smiled and looked relaxed as he talked to reporters in Washington after meeting President Bush.

"This is not the first crisis I have had. When I go back, I'll sort it out," he said.

"We have the majority in parliament and we're going to get the peace process on track. ... I have a mandate to bring peace to the country."

The crisis erupted just days after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam released a proposal on power-sharing that the government said was a basis for fresh talks.

Kumaratunga's party sharply criticized the proposals, but Kadirgamar said it was the president's belief that the security situation was deteriorating that led to her actions.

An LTTE spokesman in northern Sri Lanka said he had no comment on the president's moves but denied rumors the main north-south highway that runs through rebel-controlled territory had been closed.

But Kumaratunga's moves have already created unease among Tamils, who fear arbitrary arrests and a return to war.

The 20-year civil war pits the Tamil rebels against a government dominated by the majority Sinhalese community.

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