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Chandrika offer spurned
- President’s grab for power has to be reversed, say PM supporters

Colombo, Nov. 8 (Agencies): Supporters of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister today rejected an appeal by his long-time rival, the country's president, to form a coalition government, saying her recent grab for power had to be reversed before any decisions were made.

Justice minister W.J.M. Lokubandara did not completely dismiss the appeal by President Chandrika Kumaratunga — a fierce rival of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe — but said the situation had to first return to normal.

“It is not normal to use force and then call for a coalition government,” he said, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister’s supporters in the cabinet. “If we are to consider this, let us all go back to our previous positions.”

A power struggle erupted on Tuesday between the Prime Minister and President, throwing the island nation into political crisis and threatening peace efforts with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Angered by the Prime Minister’s more bullish approach to the peace talks, Kumaratunga fired three powerful cabinet ministers, ordered parliament suspended for two weeks and briefly declared a state of emergency.

In an address to the nation late yesterday, the President accused the Prime Minister of putting the country “in grave danger” in the peace talks.

After repeatedly criticising the Prime Minister, she concluded her speech by calling for a coalition government — although its likelihood appeared slim because of the mutual hostility between her and the Prime Minister.

According to Wickremesinghe’s spokesman, the Prime Minister may take several days before responding to the President’s call for an all-party government to resolve the island’s political crisis.

“There will be no immediate response. The Prime Minister met the cabinet before the President’s speech and will have to meet them again,” government spokesman Gairuka Perusinghe said.

“It might take two or three days,” he said. Kumaratunga spoke hours after Wickremesinghe received a jubilant welcome after returning from the US, where he received fresh backing for his peace plans from President George W. Bush.

Tens of thousands of wellwishers lined the highway from the airport chanting his name, dancing and waving banners as his convoy travelled at a walking pace into the capital.

While he was away, Kumaratunga, who has bitterly criticised his handling of peace moves with the rebels, sacked three ministers and suspended parliament until November 19, plunging the island into crisis.

“Parliament must reassemble. It is the only body with a mandate for negotiations,” Wickremesinghe said.

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