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Ranil agrees to talks, no question of mending ties

Colombo, Nov. 11: Sri Lanka’s political crisis is all set to be a long-drawn, bitter confrontation with both President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe fighting for the survival of their political careers.

The Prime Minister today decided to take up Kumaratunga’s offer to meet her for talks on forming a national government to unitedly negotiate with the LTTE. Even though Wickremesinghe announced that the crucial meeting with his arch rival would be held tomorrow at 11.30 in the morning, he sought to push his own agenda which had nothing to do with the President’s invitation for talks.

The Prime Minister’s confidants have made it clear that the meeting will not be an attempt to patchup the strained ties.

“We want to discuss remedial action. Regrettable as it may seem, the main task is the fragility of the peace process and how to salvage it,” G.L. Peiris, former member of Kumaratunga’s inner circle who switched sides before the last parliamentary elections, said today.

The talks are doomed to fail considering that both sides have taken up rigid positions. Those who know Kumaratunga say she would be the last person to back down and return the portfolios she seized from the government. Wickremesinghe and his cabinet colleagues will be satisfied with nothing less than retraction from the President.

“The Prime Minister has made it clear that what he will discuss with the President is the state of the peace process and not her offer of a national government,” justice minister W.J.M. Lokubandara said on behalf of his leader.

Most political leaders believe that both sides will continue to posture for attention and let the crisis drag on till the President dissolves Parliament and calls elections.

Wickremesinghe and his party colleagues are confident that they will be victorious in any election on the basis of their peace initiative with the Tamil Tigers and project the President as the spoiler.

Some radicals in Wickremesinghe’s United National Party are urging the Prime Minister to push Kumaratunga into a corner and force her to announce elections.

However, other sections in the party are not too sure how the President’s move to seize the defence, interior and information portfolios will finally help her in the long run.

In urban areas like Colombo, where people believe that the ceasefire with the Tigers has brought investment back to the island, Kumaratunga’s actions have been extremely unpopular.

The growth rate shot up to 5.6 per cent in the first six months of 2003 and is projected to be at least 6 per cent by the end of the financial year.

All this has been jeopardised by the political turmoil which may result in the Tigers once again taking up their guns.

However, in the south, the heartland of the Sinhala Buddhist majority, the view is different.

There is anxiety among the Sinhalas about Wickremesinghe giving too much to the LTTE.

Kumaratunga’s associates have already started negotiating with the JVP, a hardline Sinhala nationalist party with broad appeal in the south, for an alliance ahead of elections.

The Prime Minister’s party would benefit if the JVP joined the Peoples Conference. However, JVP leaders said in case of elections, they would join hands with Kumaratunga’s party to oppose the government “selling out to the LTTE.”

On the other hand, the Tigers could help the United National Party allies by ensuring that the Wickremesinghe team wins the 20-25-odd seats from the northern and eastern provinces.

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