Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Sri Lanka court extends President Rajapaksa's tenure

President Rajapaksa
Mr Rajapaksa is firmly in power once more

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has ruled that President Mahinda Rajapaksa's new term will begin in November, giving him almost another year in power.

The president had asked for his second term to begin in November 2011, but this was not accepted by the court.

Mr Rajapaksa called elections two years early following the defeat last year of Tamil Tiger separatists.

The court decision means he could remain in office until 2016. He became president in November 2005.


In elections last week, the president won 57.8% of votes, compared with 40% for his main rival Gen Sarath Fonseka.

Gen Fonseka was army chief when troops defeated the separatists rebels but he and the president later fell out over who should take credit for winning the war.

"The Supreme Court says the new term begins on 19 November this year," an official in the president's office told the AFP news agency.

Correspondents say the court ruling is a boost for Mr Rajapaksa, even though he wanted his new term of office to start a year later.

But the decision will anger and dismay opposition supporters. They are due to stage a rally against the election, which they say was not free or fair, in Colombo on Wednesday.

Mr Rajapaksa's move is not the first such attempt by a Sri Lankan leader.

Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga also tried to extend her term in office on similar grounds in 1999.

The court rejected her request partly because she had already taken the oath of office for the new presidential term.

'Critics harassed'

Meanwhile, Amnesty International released a statement saying journalists, opposition supporters and critics of the government have been arrested and harassed since the election.

"Victory against the Tamil Tigers followed by an historic election should have ended political repression in Sri Lanka, but instead we have seen a serious clampdown on freedom of expression," Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific deputy director said.

Latest reports say an opposition politician in the south has died of injuries sustained in the election campaign, which was marred by violence.

The opposition says the man, Chandradasa Naiduwadu, was attacked by supporters of the president. There has been no word from the authorities.

On Monday a group of senior military officers who supported the Fonseka campaign were dismissed because they were deemed a "threat to national security".

And US-based rights group Human Rights Watch said Sri Lanka should end the indefinite detention of some 11,000 people in custody suspected of having links to Tamil Tiger rebels.

More than 70,000 people died in 26 years of civil war as Sri Lankan troops battled Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east for the country's Tamil minority.

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