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Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 13:43 UK

Sri Lanka government relaxes war-time emergency laws

A Sri Lankan soldier orders a vehicle to stop at a checkpoint in Colombo on May 4, 2010
Emergency regulations have been in force for 27 years

The Sri Lankan government has lifted parts of the country's tough emergency laws, nearly a year after troops defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the government proposals on Wednesday.

They include lifting curbs on meetings and distributing certain literature. Other measures remain - such as the right to detain suspects without trial.

The government says rebel remnants must be contained but opponents say it wants to stifle opposition and the media.

Rebel suspects

Emergency regulations have been in force in Sri Lanka for most of the past 27 years. They give the authorities powers to detain suspects indefinitely and without charge.

Ministers say some of the emergency provisions are no longer required.

About half of the more than 70 provisions in place under the state of emergency are to be lifted, the Associated Press reports.

The military will no longer have the power to cordon and search premises. The time a suspect can be held in custody before being produced in court is to be cut from 18 months to three months.

But correspondents say those already detained under the emergency regulations will be kept in custody - they include more than 11,000 rebel suspects still to be charged.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act, a draconian law separate from the emergency measures, is also to remain in force.

"There cannot be a wholesale lifting of the emergency. It will be done part by part," External Affairs Minister GL Peiris told MPs on Tuesday.

During the debate, Sri Lanka's ex-army chief and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka called for the emergency regulations to be completely lifted.

He was prevented from retaking his seat in parliament on Wednesday as the authorities said he had to attend court martial proceedings.

The former general is being tried on charges of corruption over military procurement and faces accusations of engaging in politics while still in the army.

He denies all the charges, saying they are politically motivated.



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