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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
Sri Lanka opposition demands talks
 Supporters of the Sri Lanka Marxist JVP, or Peoples Liberation Front
Protesters in Colombo angry at the current instability
Sri Lanka's opposition leader has demanded talks with the government on Friday to resolve weeks of political instability.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the United National Party (UNP), prepared for his deadline after about 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in the capital Colombo on Thursday.

Women activists from the Peoples Centre for Democracy and Freedom shout slogans
Some of the 10 thousand protesters who want changes

They were calling for the removal of the current minority government.

Mr Wickremesinghe had earlier written to Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake accepting his offer of talks aimed at resolving the present political crisis, but only on condition that they took place by Friday.

There is growing pressure on the two main parties to resolve the crisis quickly because of the damage it is doing to investor confidence.

Earlier thousands of opposition supporters had rallied outside the town hall in central Colombo, shouting slogans such as: "Where is democracy?" and "We want a just government."

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
Mr Wickremesinghe wants talks by Friday

Some stayed to hear the speeches by different leaders of the opposition parties but many people left because there was no room for them to see the stage.

Opposition leaders complained that the state-run media had tried to frighten people away by saying that the Tamil Tiger rebels would attack the rally.

New police tactics

Riot police were deployed on the streets but there was no violence.

The BBC's correspondent in Colombo says that the government appears to have a lesson, after complaints about extreme police force used at the last big opposition protest.

Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga
President Kumaratunga has been reluctant to concede certain conditions

Mr Wickremesinghe repeated the opposition's conditions for support at the rally - that parliament be reconvened, the referendum on the constitution cancelled and commissions be set up to establish the independence of elections, the police, the judiciary, the media and public services.

These are conditions President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been reluctant to concede.

The United States ambassador has said he is concerned about the current political uncertainty in Sri Lanka and its possible impact on prospects for peace and economic growth.

Many members of the private sector believe if the two main parties did agree on a government of consensus, the stock exchange would immediately rise by 10%-15%.

See also:

09 Aug 01 | South Asia
Offer to break Sri Lanka deadlock
11 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka president 'undemocratic'
20 Jun 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka coalition in crisis
06 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Sri Lanka
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