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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Sri Lanka peace process protest
JVP supporters clash with Sri Lankan police
The JVP voiced strong opposition to the peace process
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By Amal Jayasinghe
BBC reporter in Colombo
In Sri Lanka, the main opposition parties have staged their first major public demonstration against Norway's attempts to broker peace in the island.

Buddhist monks protest the government's peace initiative
The Buddhist clergy supports the Marxist JVP

The public rally comes as the government is set to ease a ban on Tamil Tiger rebels and enter face-to-face negotiations arranged by Norway.

Thousands of supporters of Sri Lanka's main leftist party, the JVP (People's Liberation Front), staged a noisy demonstration denouncing the government and peace-broker Norway over their efforts to end decades of ethnic bloodshed.

The demonstrators then marched to the nearby Hyde Park in the capital Colombo and shared a common platform with President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance (PA).

President Kumaratunga has publicly supported the peace drive of her cohabitation government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, the president's political rival.

Powerful critics

But she has also accused the administration of surrendering the country's sovereignty to Norwegians.

President Kumaratunga with former Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral
Kumaratunga has publicly supported peace efforts

President Kumaratunga's brother, Anura Bandaranaike, was the star attraction at the opposition rally.

He and other protesters denounced both Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and Norway for allegedly making concessions to Tamil Tiger rebels.

Bandaranaike is a former speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament and an MP from the PA which is now in the opposition in parliament.

Police officials say that 8,000-10,000 people took part in the latest demonstrations.

Rapid progress

These were the first opposition attempt to publicly take on the government on the issue of political negotiations with Tiger rebels.

Prime Minister Wickramasinghe has strongly hinted that he is prepared to lift a 1998 ban on the Tiger rebels to allow face-to-face talks.

These are scheduled to take place at a neutral venue in Thailand sometime in June.

The Norwegian mediators have recently reported "remarkable progress" in the peace process.

They have even warned that the process might actually be going too fast.

They cautioned both the government and the rebels to take time to consider an agenda for political issues and work on a lasting settlement to a conflict that has claimed over 60,000 lives in the past three decades.

See also:

21 Apr 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka de-mining project begins
20 Apr 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's peace moves hailed
12 Apr 02 | South Asia
US urges Tiger rebels to shun violence
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
Tamil Tigers upset over truce delay
10 Apr 02 | South Asia
Tamil Tiger chief 'wants peace'
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Sri Lanka's fragile ceasefire
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