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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 10:40 GMT
Sri Lanka clampdown begins
Sri Lankan woman walks past wall covered with posters of Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga
The emergency measures increase the president's powers
A 10-day state of emergency has come into effect in Sri Lanka as a power struggle between the president and the prime minister intensifies.

It gives the military wide-ranging powers of detention, bans public gatherings and restricts the media.

It was declared by President Chandrika Kumaratunga while Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe was abroad.

Hours after the state of emergency began, the country's cabinet demanded that parliament be reconvened.

Condemning what it termed the "gross abuse of presidential power", it also called for the re-instatement of the ministers of defence, interior and information.

President supreme in Lanka's defence
Headline in the formerly pro-government Daily News
President Kumaratunga suspended parliament for two weeks and dismissed the three key ministers on Tuesday, a day before declaring the state of emergency.

The cabinet also urged the removal of Kumaratunga appointees from a state television station and the main state-run publishing house.

Thursday saw state-run media switch allegiance to President Kumaratunga from the government of Prime Minister Wickramasinghe as the state of emergency came into force.

"The cabinet expressed its firm opinion that any change of portfolios and subjects should not be made by the president without prior consultation with the prime minister according to the written instructions of the attorney general," government spokesman G L Peiris said.

Mrs Kumaratunga acted while the prime minister was on a visit to the United States.

The president's chief adviser, Lakshman Kadirgamar, said the steps were necessary because of the worsening security situation in the country.

The president had previously criticised concessions made by the government to the Tamil Tigers rebel group.

But Mr Kadirgamar denied there was any connection with Tamil Tiger proposals for power-sharing that were made public last weekend, and said the president was committed to maintaining the 20-month-old ceasefire with the rebels.

'Ups and downs'

The prime minister's supporters say they have collected the signatures of a majority of MPs who are still loyal to him.

When I go back I will sort it out
Ranil Wickramasinghe

Speaking in Washington following talks with US President George W Bush, Mr Wickramasinghe said he had an electoral mandate to bring peace to Sri Lanka.

Mr Wickramasinghe said he had told President Bush the current dispute was "part of Sri Lankan politics".

"For 25 years we have had these ups and downs," he said. "When I go back I will sort it out."

The United States delayed finalising a free trade agreement with Sri Lanka during the prime minister's visit to Washington because of the island's political crisis, Mr Peiris said.

"The US was ready to finalise the agreement during the prime minister's visit. Now the US has decided not to do this and they will wait for the parliament to assert full authority."

The BBC's Frances Harrison, in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, says it is not clear what options are available to Mr Wickramasinghe, who cannot govern without key ministries but will find it difficult to mount a legal challenge to the president.

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Our correspondent adds, however, that if Mrs Kumaratunga does come out on top of this power struggle, she may face some resistance from an international community which has expressed concerns for the future of Sri Lanka's peace process.

The streets of Colombo are reported to be calm, but the stock market has fallen heavily since the crisis began.

But in the north of the island, where most of the Tamil minority ethnic group lives, many people are reported to be stocking up on fuel and food amid fears that hostilities between the Tigers and government forces are about to recommence.

Thirumalai Manivannan, editor of the BBC's Tamil service, says that whenever Colombo has invoked emergency provisions citing security fears, it has often meant imprisonment and harassment of members of the Tamil minority.

The ceasefire between the government and rebels was brokered by Norwegian mediators and signed in February 2002.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mike Woodridge
"The world watches, anxious that the crisis will not undo the progress that has been made"



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