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The BBC's Alastair Lawson in Colombo
An overwhelming sense of despondency among the government
 real 28k

Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Sri Lanka to pursue peace effort
Left wing protesters in Sri Lanka
Thousands celebrated the government's failure
The Sri Lankan Government has pledged to pursue efforts to end the 17-year war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The statement comes a day after it was forced by parliament to postpone a proposal to reform the constitution, which would have devolved greater powers to Tamils in the north and east.

The defeat embarrassed the government which is now conducting a post mortem into why it failed to attract enough support.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Colombo on Wednesday celebrating the government's failure.

"We will ensure the constitution is withdrawn even if we have to shed blood," one placard held by a protester read.

The opposition United National Party has called for the government to step down and hold elections immediately, rather than later this month when they are due.

Fresh attacks

In fresh fighting in the north, Tamil Tiger rebels have fired surface-to-air missiles at air force jets.

The government said its newly acquired Mig-27 fighters escaped damage during a an attack on the rebel Chalai sea base.

"The aircraft pounded the Tiger position continuously with bombs despite LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] retaliation," the government said in a statement.

Elsewhere in the north, Tamil Tiger rebels attacked an army bunker near the government-controlled town of Vavuniya, killing at least six soldiers and wounding several others.

And in the north-eastern Trincomalee district, rebels attacked a military bus, killing at least one passenger and wounding 30 others.

Defence increases

Meanwhile, parliament has approved a 50% increase in the country's defence budget which now stands at more than $1bn a year.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga said the increase was necessary to fund the purchase of new equipment for Sri Lanka's defence forces.

The BBC's Alastair Lawson in Colombo says in the past two years, expenditure on defence has been double that on education and health.

Parliament also voted to extend a state of emergency, which was declared by the president in May.

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See also:

08 Aug 00 | South Asia
Setback for Sri Lanka peace hopes
10 Jul 00 | South Asia
Olive branch to Tamil Tigers
07 Jul 00 | South Asia
Boost for Sri Lankan peace
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