- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 10, 2010

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka’s president dissolved parliament Tuesday to make way for spring elections a day after authorities arrested a key opposition leader, crippling the only serious threat to the ruling party’s stifling grip on power.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision follows his sweeping victory at the polls last month over his former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, who had defected to the opposition after helping to end the country’s quarter-century civil war. Mr. Fonseka was arrested by the military Monday on sedition charges.

If last month’s presidential election is any indication, the upcoming parliamentary contest will be another bitter race between the government and the opposition, which says it is being harassed. Human rights groups have echoed those accusations.

An aide to the president said the elections will be held the first week in April.

When allies, Mr. Fonseka and Mr. Rajapaksa were considered heroes by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority for crushing the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting for a homeland for minority Tamils. However, their relationship deteriorated after hostilities ended.

The former army chief was considered the opposition’s best hope to unseat Mr. Rajapaksa, but the president secured the re-election in a landslide, according to official results.

Mr. Fonseka’s arrest sparked a wave of condemnations.

“This is unprecedented in the history of Sri Lanka,” said Ranil Wickremasinghe, the leader of the largest opposition party, which supported Mr. Fonseka’s failed attempt to unseat Mr. Rajapaksa.

Mr. Fonseka’s wife, Anoma, told reporters Tuesday that she has not been allowed to meet her husband or told where he is being held. She denied Mr. Fonseka wanted to topple the government while in the military.

Not so, says government minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

“He’s been plotting against the president while in the military … with the idea of overthrowing the government,” Mr. Rambukwella said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “concern” about developments in Sri Lanka. Spokesman Martin Nesirky said the secretary-general plans to speak to Mr. Rajapaksa later Tuesday.

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