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Emergency declared in Sri Lanka

President 'no intention' to resume hostilities

Sri Lankan army soldiers patrol on the streets of Colombo.
Sri Lankan army soldiers patrol on the streets of Colombo.

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State of emergency could threaten peace talks with Tamil rebels.
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A government in chaos after three ministers are removed from office.
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start quoteThe irresponsible and precipitous action of the president is aimed at plunging the country into chaos and anarchyend quote
-- Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Sri Lanka's president has declared a state of emergency amid an escalating row with the prime minister over the direction of the country's peace process.

The exact details and powers of the declaration have yet to be made clear, although it is thought to give the police sweeping powers of arrest and allow for indefinite detention without trial.

Emergency powers are also likely to give the president power to clamp down on the media, CNN's Kasra Naji reported from Colombo.

"This looks more and more like a constitutional coup here in Sri Lanka," Naji said.

Under the constitution President Chandrika Kumaratunga has command of Sri Lanka's armed forces with ultimate responsibility for law and order and security.

The declaration of a state of emergency is the president's latest move following her surprise sacking Tuesday of three key cabinet ministers and the suspension of the country's parliament. (Power struggle)

Troops have also been deployed to key areas around the capital, Colombo.

Attempting to rally support against Kumaratunga's moves senior members of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's cabinet held a news conference Wednesday pledging their support for his policies in the form of a letter signed by a majority of parliament.

Calling the president's actions capricious and arbitrary, government spokesman Laxman Pieris said, "We have a mandate from the people and we will uphold the mandate" through our actions in parliament.

The escalating row has cast a shadow over the already shaky peace process intended to bring an end to Sri Lanka's long-running civil war.

However, shortly before the state of emergency was declared a senior presidential aide told a press conference that despite the escalating crisis the 22-month old ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels would continue to stand.

Lakshman Kadirgamar said there was "no question" the agreement would be respected.

"I am specially authorized by the president to state that the ceasefire agreement stands, and will stand," he told reporters.

"The president has no intention whatsoever of resuming or provoking the resumption of hostilities," he added.

Kadirgamar said suggestions "being made in certain quarters" that the president was trying to resume hostilities were untrue and "mischievous."

However, he added that the latest power sharing offer from the Tamil Tiger rebels was not acceptable, raising questions over how negotiations might proceed.

Tuesday's sackings came while Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a bitter political rival of the president, was in the midst of a visit to the United States.

Wickremesinghe has said he will carry on with the visit, part of an effort to increase U.S. support for efforts to end Sri Lanka's two decades of civil war that has cost more than 65,000 lives.

He is due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

'Chaos and anarchy'

Kumaratunga's party was forced into opposition two years ago, but she retains wide powers.
Kumaratunga's party was forced into opposition two years ago, but she retains wide powers.

In a statement issued by Wickremesinghe's office in Colombo Tuesday he labeled Kumaratunga's moves as "irresponsible" and accused her of "plunging the country into chaos and anarchy" during his absence.

The sackings shook Sri Lanka's fragile economy, sending stocks into an 13-percent dive amid fears that the peace process might be derailed. (Sri Lanka market dives)

Wickremesinghe has long been the target of criticism from the president who says his government is being too soft in peace negotiations with the rebels and has given away too many concessions.

Kumaratunga, who heads the main opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), is commander of Sri Lanka's armed forces and has wide executive authority.

The SLFP was booted out of power two years ago when Wickremesinghe's United National Front scored a landslide win in elections on a platform promising to bring an end to years of civil war.

Since then the president and prime minister have been locked in an uneasy constitutional cohabitation.

start quoteThe maintenance of law and order is one of the paramount duties cast on me under the constitutionend quote
-- President Chandrika Kumaratunga

In a national address late Tuesday Kumaratunga said she remained willing to discuss a "just and balanced solution" to the long-standing conflict, but any resolution must maintain "the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka."

On Friday the rebels unveiled proposals for a power-sharing arrangement demanding they be placed in charge of Sri Lanka's Tamil-dominated northeast for a period of five years until a permanent solution is put in place.

The government said the rebel proposal differed fundamentally from its plan, but "the way forward lies through direct discussion of the issues arising from both sets of proposals."

Kumaratunga's SLFP rejected the proposal outright saying such a move would lay the groundwork for a separate Tamil state in violation of the country's constitution.

The Tamil Tiger rebels, officially known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have been fighting for more than two decades for a homeland for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The Tamils say they face discrimination from the Singhalese majority.

A 22-month-old cease-fire is still holding although the rebels broke off the peace talks in April, saying the government side has failed to implement many of the decisions taken during the six previous rounds of peace talks.

-- CNN's Kasra Naji in Colombo contributed to this report.


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