Detained Fonseka set to attend new Sri Lankan parliament

Detained Fonseka set to attend new Sri Lankan parliament

April 22, 2010   07:38 am

Sri Lanka’s parliament opens on Thursday with attention focused on the appearance of former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who is set to travel under escort from military custody to take up his seat.



The assembly, set to convene for the first time since elections on April 8, will be dominated by the United People’s Freedom Alliance led by Fonseka’s arch-rival President Mahinda Rajapakse.



Rajapakse’s coalition is just short of the two-thirds majority required for the government to rewrite the constitution, which at present prevents the president from standing again when his second term ends in 2016.



Fonseka, who is being court-martialed, would be allowed to attend the opening of parliament before being returned to detention afterwards, government officials said.



Political observers believe Fonseka is likely to use his seat to air allegations of human rights abuses plaguing the government and to attack the president, who does not sit in the assembly.



Rajapakse and Fonseka fell out after they defeated the country’s Tamil Tigers rebels last May, with Fonseka unsuccessfully trying to unseat Rajapakse in presidential elections in January.



Fonseka was arrested soon after, but while in detention he won a seat in parliament.



His court martial, on charges of allegedly engaging in politics while in uniform and involvement in corrupt arms procurement, was adjourned on Tuesday for two weeks.



Fonseka denies all the accusations, saying they are a politically motivated attempt to silence him.



“Parliament allows Fonseka a public forum to present his grievances without any fetters,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Centre for Policy Alternative think-tank. “He can say whatever he wants. He can spill the beans.”



The United States Wednesday called on the new government to use its mandate to pursue a “healing process” as the island recovers from decades of war.



“The government should use that mandate to help continue the healing process within Sri Lankan society, to bring all elements to help Sri Lankaget past the recent conflict and move forward together,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.



The main opposition United National Party was trounced in this month’s parliamentary elections, winning just 60 seats, while the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance, came third with 14.



Fonseka’s leftist Democratic National Alliance (DNA) party won seven seats.



The parliamentary election was held just two months after the presidential poll that returned Rajapakse to power.



The two elections were the first since the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, which ended decades of ethnic bloodshed on the island that claimed up to 100,000 lives according to the United Nations.


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