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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Profile: Chandrika Kumaratunga
Chandrika Kumaratunga at the funeral of foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar
Mrs Kumaratunga's brother was recently made new foreign minister
Friday's ruling by the Supreme Court in Sri Lanka that President Chandrika Kumaratunga must step down by December marks the end of a turbulent presidency.

Her time in office has been dominated by a stop-and-go peace process with the Tamil Tigers and several years of cohabitation with an opposition prime minister.

The tsunami that devastated many coastal regions of Sri Lanka in December 2004 has presented further political and economic challenges to the divided island.

When Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power as president of Sri Lanka for the first time in 1994, her family credentials for the job were impeccable.

Both her parents had been prime ministers of Sri Lanka: her mother, Sirimavoh Bandaranaike, was the world's first woman prime minister.

At the time of Mrs Kumaratunga's election she said that politics was in her blood, even though her father had been assassinated when she was 14 years old, and her husband was gunned down in 1989.

Mrs Kumaratunga was educated at a convent school in Colombo.

She spent five years at the University of Paris, and is reported to have taken part in the famous 1968 student demonstrations in that city.

Family politics

Mrs Kumaratunga's strong academic background meant that she received none of the taunts directed at her late mother.

Sirimavoh Bandaranaike was accused by her detractors of being a "kitchen woman" - somebody who knew all about cooking, but nothing about running a country.

Posters hailing SLFP Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse as new president
Analysts expect this to be a bitterly contested election

Renowned for her energy and intellect, it nevertheless took a long time for Mrs Kumaratunga to move out of the shadow of her mother.

During her 1994 election campaign and in power, Mrs Kumaratunga moved rapidly to accelerate the process of economic liberalisation in Sri Lanka.

The victory of her Peoples' Alliance (PA) coalition ended 17 years of rule by the United National Party (UNP).

In one of her first news conferences on assuming power, Mrs Kumaratunga spoke of extending the hand of friendship to the Tamil Tigers.

Initially, it seemed that her overtures were making some headway, and there were numerous rounds of peace talks.

But any atmosphere of trust between the two sides disintegrated within six months of her presidential election win.

Assassination attempt

The Tamil Tigers resumed their hit and run tactics against the Sri Lankan army in the north and east of the country.

Mrs Kumaratunga was herself almost killed in an attack by a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber on the final day of campaigning for presidential elections in 2000.

But she went on to be re-elected for a second successive term as Sri Lanka's president.

In December 2001, Mrs Kumaratunga suffered a setback when her political opponent Ranil Wickramasinghe took office as Sri Lanka's new prime minister.

She continued as president, but had a rocky relationship with Mr Wickramasinghe's government.

In February 2002, Mr Wickramasinghe's government and Tamil Tiger rebels signed a permanent ceasefire agreement, paving the way for talks to end the long-running conflict.

In December, the government and the rebels agreed to share power during peace talks in Norway.

Vociferous opponent

Mrs Kumaratunga was a vociferous opponent of the way peace initiatives with the rebels were conducted.

Opposition parties celebrate Supreme Court decision to require elections this year
Opposition parties have welcomed the Supreme Court decision

She accused the government of making too many concessions to the Tamil Tigers.

The president also expressed displeasure with the Norwegians - who brokered the February 2002 ceasefire - and became the peace monitors.

Few governments, she said, would tolerate a foreign delegation advising them to "write away their sovereignty".

The Tigers pulled out of peace talks in April 2003 after disagreements on many issues, especially the question of the control of development funds in conflict areas.

They complained that they had been sidelined in the peace process.

Meanwhile, Mrs Kumaratunga's belief that Mr Wickramasinghe was too lenient with the Tamil Tiger rebels came to a climax in November 2003, when she took control of three ministries in his government, including defence, while he was out of the country.

She lifted the state of emergency after Mr Wickramasinghe returned to Sri Lanka, but subsequently called fresh parliamentary elections for April 2004.

Her Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) won the most seats in the elections, but not enough to form a government on its own.

Uncertain future

Since then it has relied on the support of smaller parties to form a majority government but following a deal with Tamil Tigers over the distribution of post-tsunami aid, lost the support of its main ally, the Sinhalese nationalist JVP.

The announcement that presidential elections will take place in October or November comes at another fragile moment.

Sri Lanka's foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated in August.

Mrs Kumaratunga blamed the Tigers for the killing, but they deny responsibility.

The Tamil Tigers have now agreed to hold high level talks with the government to discuss the implementation of the ceasefire.

But, an impending change in the presidency - and the possibility of another period of cohabitation - looms over the future of the peace process.

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