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Emergency in Lanka

Colombo, Nov. 5 (Reuters): Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared a state of emergency today, giving herself more powers in a bare-knuckled political fight with the Prime Minister that is threatening the peace with Tamil rebels.

The state of emergency, which allows detention for up to one year without charges, comes a day after the President sacked three of the country’s most powerful ministers and suspended parliament.

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 Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over the peace process, saying the government was making too many concessions to the rebels.

“I am authorised by the President to tell you that the ceasefire 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.”

Kumaratunga, who was elected separately from Wickremesinghe, sacked the defence, interior and media ministers on Tuesday and suspended parliament.

That shock move was followed today by the imposition of the state of emergency, which widens the powers of the President and the military and includes bans on public assembly.

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

All the actions were taken in Wickremesinghe’s absence — he is in the US to meet President George W. Bush. Analysts said it was difficult to predict what would come next until Wickremesinghe’s return on Friday.

India, which sent troops to Sri Lanka to fight the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the 1980s, expressed surprise at the sudden turn of events. “We hope that the situation does not provoke a constitutional crisis,” an external affairs ministry statement said.

The developments also come just days after the LTTE released a proposal on power-sharing that the government said was a basis for fresh talks.

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