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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
'Handbag row' rocks Sri Lanka
Prime Minister Rail Wickremesinghe (L) and President Chandrika Kumaratunga
Spokesman: No secret camera in president's handbag

A spokesman for Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has hit back in a deepening row with the government with whom she shares power.

Spokesman Harim Peiris says the extremely uncouth behaviour of some cabinet ministers shows they are not interested in cohabitation.


Deep cracks are clearly showing in the cohabitation government

He said talks were under way to iron out the irritants between the president and the prime minister.

The two leaders come from rival political parties, but have to share power.

Deep cracks are clearly showing in the cohabitation government, which threaten attempts to resolve the country's civil war.

Handbag controversy

Mr Peiris said allegations by a government minister that the president had a secret camera in her handbag to record cabinet meetings, were wild and unfounded.

Political instability may threaten ongoing peace efforts
Asked why the president did not just open the handbag to reveal its contents, Mr Peiris said the president was a lady, and a lady's handbag was generally respected and not opened and flashed in front of people's eyes.

Mr Peiris complained the ministers who had made the allegations about the president's handbag had behaved disgracefully.

He added that they had shown they were not interested in a government of cohabitation - something which he said would be better served by their removal from office.

On reports that the president was caught on camera mimicking the physical disability of the law minister, her spokesman said she had been under great stress.

He said the president received vitriolic criticism from the media, while her rival, the prime minister, was treated as second only to Jesus Christ, in terms of being free of sin.

He said such treatment by the media was soul-destroying and something which obviously had to get to a person.

Concerns

The president's spokesman also justified a leaked memo, which outlined a plan to topple the current government of Ranil Wickremesinghe.


The concern is political instability in the south of the country will jeopardise the current peace process with Tamil Tiger rebels

He said there was nothing wrong with enticing government members of parliament over to the opposition benches, as long as it was for political reasons and not money.

And he added that what was discussed in the document was by no means a coup, and there was no need to apologise for its contents.

Although efforts are under way to patch up differences between the president and the prime minister, it is clear their relationship has seriously deteriorated in recent weeks.

The concern is political instability in the south of the country will jeopardise the current peace process with Tamil Tiger rebels.

The peace process currently underway with Norwegian mediation offers the best chance yet of ending the civil war, in which more than 65,000 people have been killed.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

28 Jul 02 | South Asia
07 Aug 02 | Crossing Continents
02 Aug 02 | South Asia
16 Jul 02 | South Asia
08 Jul 02 | South Asia
03 Aug 02 | South Asia
09 Aug 02 | South Asia
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