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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Sri Lankan MPs in parliament protest
Sri Lankan president
President Kumaratunga lost her majority last week
More than 70 opposition MPs in Sri Lanka have forced their way into parliament, which was suspended last week by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in an apparent attempt to avoid a no-confidence vote.


We asked the secretary general to open the building and allow us in

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe led dozens of MPs into the tightly-guarded parliament compound early on Monday after dismantling police barricades around the site.

The move followed a ruling on Sunday by the parliament speaker, Anura Bandaranaike, that he was unable to reconvene parliament after the order that it should be suspended.

President Kumaratunga's ruling alliance lost its parliamentary majority last month when a key Muslim party defected to the opposition.

'Impeachment' vote

The opposition MPs were eventually allowed into a committee room in the parliament complex after a stand-off lasting several hours.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
Ranil Wickremesinghe: Vowed to impeach president
Mr Wickremesinghe said they had decided to gather "to impeach the president for wilful and intentional violation of the constitution".

It was not immediately clear what would happen if MPs went ahead with a vote to impeach Mrs Kumaratunga, who was directly elected by voters and whose term lasts until 2005.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo says a move to impeach her would also need the approval of the speaker, who is also the president's brother.

Last week, the opposition reacted angrily to Mrs Kumaratunga's move to suspend parliament, calling it undemocratic.

The government has said the parliament will reconvene on 7 September.

Constitution

President Kumaratunga also called a referendum on a new constitution for 21 August, a government statement said.

Sri Lanka timeline
20 June: Government loses majority
10 July, midnight: Parliament suspended
18 July: Planned debate on no-confidence motion
21 August: Referendum on the constitution
7 September: Parliament reconvenes
10 October: Fresh elections can be called
The combined opposition has 116 seats against the government's 109 in the 225-member house.

Correspondents say that suspending parliament to avoid a vote of no confidence was the only option available to the president, because under Sri Lanka's constitution she is not allowed to dissolve the house until one year has passed since the last elections.

That means this parliament has to continue until at least mid-October before fresh elections can be called.

So when parliament reconvenes, there is likely to be a fresh batch of political uncertainty, unless the president can woo back disgruntled allies in the interim period.

See also:

11 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka president 'undemocratic'
05 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka invokes terror laws
22 Jun 01 | South Asia
Confidence vote looms in Sri Lanka
20 Jun 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka coalition in crisis
06 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Sri Lanka
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