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The BBC's Alastair Lawson
"The conflict in the north and east of the country will continue"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 8 August, 2000, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Setback for Sri Lanka peace hopes
Black flag protest
Many Buddhist monks oppose the devolution package
The Sri Lankan Government has indefinitely postponed a parliamentary vote on a crucial reform bill aimed at ending the country's long-running separatist war.

Senior ministers said they had decided to delay the bill when it became clear they would be unable to muster a two-thirds majority for its second reading in parliament on Tuesday.

If enacted, the bill would have given Sri Lanka a federal system of government, and allowed the Tamil community in the north greater autonomy.


The final hour has come for all Buddhists to rise and protest this so-called new constitution

Buddhist monk Athuraliye Rathana
Our correspondent says the failure is a personal setback for President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who had argued that constitutional change offered the best hope for a lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

As parliament met for the second day of debate on the bill, thousands of police and troops ringed the building, and helicopters were used to take members of parliament past the protesters, including Buddhist monks, who were demonstrating outside.

Protests

Mrs Kumaratunga suffered another blow on Tuesday when government minister Mahinda Rajapakse joined the protesters and openly supported their opposition.

He also approached a smaller group of pro-government demonstrators and urged them to disperse peacefully.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga
President Kumaratunga had said the bill represented the best hope for lasting peace
"We will not go what ever you say," the government supporters shouted in reply.

More than 5,000 demonstrators were protesting against the proposed reforms on Tuesday.

Nationalist Sinhalese groups and senior Buddhist monks argue that giving autonomy to Tamil regions might lead to the disintegration of the country.

"We want this new constitution to be thrown in the sea. We don't need this, as we feel this will see the beginning of our small country's division," said Gamini Wijeratne, one of the protesters.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which is fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils, has rejected the proposed reforms.

More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict between the government and the Tigers.

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See also:

31 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sri Lankan peace plan push
10 Jul 00 | South Asia
Olive branch to Tamil Tigers
07 Jul 00 | South Asia
Boost for Sri Lankan peace
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