Sri Lanka election controversy continues

Sri Lanka‘s recently re-elected President
Mahinda Rajapaksa is dissolving parliament, clearing the way for early
elections, officials say.

Parliament
will be dissolved from midnight and official sources say the poll will probably
be held on 8 April.

Mr
Rajapaksa won a second term in office by a large margin last month, but the
outcome was rejected by his main rival, Gen Sarath Fonseka.

Gen
Fonseka was detained by security forces on Monday.

Opposition
politicians say the government is engaged in a witch-hunt and have called for
protests on Wednesday against the arrest.

The
term of Sri Lanka’s
parliament was to have ended on 22 April, with an election to be held as late
as June.

Election
laws require a poll to be held between six and eight weeks of dissolution and
official sources say the date will most likely be 8 April, with parliament convening
on 22 April.

The
election commissioner must confirm the date of the election.

The
BBC’s Charles Haviland in Colombo
says President Rajapaksa is hoping to capitalise on his presidential election
victory in January by increasing the narrow majority of seats held in
parliament by his Freedom Alliance.

Mr
Rajapaksa fought the presidential poll on the back of the government’s
successful military campaign to end the long insurgency by Tamil Tiger rebels
in the north and east of the country.

His
rival, Gen Fonseka, the former army chief, also claimed credit for ending the
civil war last year.

They
fell out soon after the fighting ended and fought a bitter election campaign.

Gen
Fonseka was arrested at his office on Monday.

He
was discussing the parliamentary election with supporters at the time. They say
the arrest is an attempt to prevent his involvement.

Although
the opposition had rallied around the candidacy of Gen Fonseka, our
correspondent Charles Haviland says it is not clear whether the dour general
could really have continued to bring the opposition together.

In
the last election in 2004, the Freedom Alliance won 105 of the 225 seats in parliament
and the main opposition United National Party 82.

However,
the Freedom Alliance has been able to maintain a workable majority with
defections.

The
Sri Lankan defence ministry says Gen Fonseka was arrested for breaking military
regulations by holding discussions with politicians while serving on the
national security council.

Gen
Fonseka’s wife Anoma says she has not been allowed to see her husband since the
arrest.

Military
spokesman Maj Gen Prasad Samarasinghe said Gen Fonseka was permitted to see family
members and had been allowed legal advice.

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