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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK
Sri Lanka parties in crisis talks
Scene of Tiger attack
Sri Lankans hope war is now behind them
Sri Lanka's president and prime minister have held talks to try to avert a deepening crisis that could threaten the island's embryonic peace process.

Chandrika Kumaratunga
President: 'Seeks compromise'
During a two-hour meeting, President Chandrika Kumaratunga agreed not to dissolve parliament as long as the government had a majority, her spokesman said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, in return, postponed until the end of the week plans to clip the president's wings.

Mr Wickramasinghe wants to limit her powers to dissolve parliament amid fears that she could scupper any deal that the government brings back from peace talks with separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

Foreign Minister Tyrone Fernando told the BBC the differences were not insoluble, and should be settled by Friday.

As the meeting took place, several thousand left-wing protesters took to the streets of the capital, Colombo, to oppose government peace plans.

'Compromise'

The latest developments come just days before landmark talks in Thailand between the government and the rebels, which have been delayed by tensions over the constitution.

Demo in colombo on 3 September
Government opponents took to the streets
The Tigers have been reluctant to begin face-to-face dialogue after years of civil war until Mr Wickramasinghe can provide assurances that he can deliver on any promises made at the talks.

Under present arrangements, the president has the right to dissolve parliament at any time - as long as 12 months have elapsed since the government took office.

Mr Wickramasinghe, her arch-rival elected last December, says this is destabilising his efforts to secure long-term peace with the rebels.

Under his plans MPs would also be allowed to vote against their party on issues of conscience - crucial if the government is to win the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a peace deal.

President Kumaratunga is said to be keen to avoid "piece-meal" constitutional change and has asked for time so a compromise can be reached, even if she loses powers.

Opposition

Mrs Kumaratunga has made it clear that she opposes the government's strategy over talks with the Tamil Tigers.

In particular, she has said she does not support lifting the ban on the rebels, which is meant to happen before peace talks start.

In another sign of her misgivings, her office said on Tuesday that it had asked for the names of rebels due to be released under a swap agreement with the Tigers.

A statement said some of the suspects in an attempt to assassinate her in 1999 were among those being freed.

About 65,000 people have been killed since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began their fight for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east.

A ceasefire, brokered by Norway, was signed in February.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

01 Sep 02 | South Asia
02 Sep 02 | Business
30 Aug 02 | South Asia
14 Aug 02 | South Asia
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