Sri Lankan PM flies back to political storm
( 2003-11-07 09:57) (Agencies)
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's supporters thronged the airport on Friday as he was set to arrive for a showdown with the island's president that threatens the peace the prime minister has built with Tamil rebels.
The confrontation between the two arch-rivals who are elected separately comes to a head after President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three cabinet ministers, suspended parliament and declared a state of emergency.
"The prime minister will meet cabinet. We will discuss the situation and decide the course of action. We will consider all our options," cabinet spokesman G.L. Peiris said.
Kumaratunga, citing security concerns, said she had acted in the nation's best interests with her moves carried out while Wickremesinghe was visiting Washington, where he met U.S. President Bush.
A cease-fire signed 20 months ago by Wickremesinghe and the Tamil Tiger rebels has given the island its longest period of peace since the separatist war that has killed 64,000 broke out in 1983.
But Kumaratunga accuses the government of conceding too much to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one of the world's most ferocious guerrilla groups.
The road to the airport was festooned with green banners from the ruling party of Wickremesinghe, who is due to touch down at 0200 GMT.
The political crisis has brought regional and international expression of concerns, with India the latest to call for a quick solution and the International Monetary Fund warning confidence in the economy could suffer.
Kumaratunga's office said she "has only exercised her responsibility as the constitutional head of state in the greater interest of the sovereignty and the security of the nation."
"The president is committed to the continuity of the cease-fire agreement and to keep open the channel of communication with the LTTE and to a negotiated settlement within a united country.
"The president assures the people of Sri Lanka that there is no cause for alarm or panic."
Peiris said the cabinet had demanded that she reconvene parliament and restore the sacked defense, interior and media ministers.
"This is a total reversal of all we'd worked hard for for two years. We will do everything to minimise the negative effects," he said.
Political observers said the standoff could end in a general election, the third in four years.
The state of emergency allows detention for up to one year without charge as well as widening Kumaratunga's powers and those of the military. It was used widely by previous governments to crack down on the Tamil rebellion.
The split between the president and prime minister has been looming since Wickremesinghe won parliamentary elections in late 2001, campaigning on a platform of pursuing peace with the Tigers to defeat Kumaratunga's party.
But security on the road to the airport appeared to be normal and early morning traffic in the rest of the city was also regular.
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