- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe lashed out at his archrival, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, in Washington yesterday after the president dismissed three senior Cabinet ministers and suspended the Sri Lankan parliament.

“The irresponsible and precipitous action of the [Sri Lankan] president is aimed at plunging the country into chaos and anarchy,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said in a statement issued on the eve of a White House meeting today with President Bush.

Despite the constitutional crisis in his homeland, the prime minister said he would not return home until he had concluded his business in Washington.

In the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, Mrs. Kumaratunga suspended parliament, fired the ministers of defense, information and the interior, and deployed troops around the capital. She said she had exercised her authority and “taken action strictly under the constitution to safeguard the security of our motherland.”

“Several platoons have been deployed to prevent any unwanted incidents and to maintain law and order,” a military spokesman told the Associated Press.

No immediate military threat was evident, but the president has been very critical of efforts by the prime minister to negotiate a peace with the Tamil Tigers, charging the government has given too many concessions to the rebels.

She said she acted “after careful consideration in order to prevent further deterioration of the security situation in the country.”

In Washington, U.S. officials said they were watching the events “very closely,” and voiced fears that the political wrangling could undermine efforts to end a 20-year civil war that has already killed 64,000 people.

“We are concerned that these events could have a negative effect on the peace process and on talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” said State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli.

Mr. Wickramasinghe, whose party holds a tiny majority in the country’s parliament, was in the middle of a high-level trip to Washington when Mrs. Kumaratunga announced the shake-up back home. The president and prime minister have long been sharp political rivals.

The prime minister’s staff said they would go ahead with their itinerary, including a meeting with President Bush today. Mr. Wickramasinghe met with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on Monday.

In his statement, Mr. Wickramasinghe appealed to supporters and Sri Lankan security forces to “remain calm and vigilant in the face of this deliberate attempt to endanger the peace process, which we will together overcome.”

Bush administration officials acknowledged that Sri Lanka’s constitution gives broad powers to the president, who is both head of state and head of the government. But Mr. Ereli said a democratic government “implies public officials of different parties working together in the public interest.”

• David R. Sands contributed to this report.


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