UNP flays Govt. decision on emergency

COLOMBO, JULY 6. The main Opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil parties in Sri Lanka today criticised the People's Alliance Government, which side-stepped a test of strength in Parliament to retain provisions under the emergency and the ban on the LTTE.

``This Government is a laughing stock. After a vicious campaign against the UNP for our decision to vote against the extension of the emergency, finally, they have themselves found a way out, which only means that they were either not aware of it earlier, or they deliberately misled the public,'' the party spokesman, Mr. Karunasena Kodittawakku, said.

Under the extensive powers vested in her by the Constitution, the President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, on Thursday, used the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to keep the ban on the LTTE, which lapsed with the Emergency on July 4, and to declare all districts of the country as ``security areas''. The Government could not extend the emergency because it was uncertain of its strength in Parliament. The ruling and opposition parties are still locked in a battle over dates for the debate on a no- confidence motion against the Government.

A meeting of parliamentary party leaders on the issue ended inconclusively today. The Government wants the debate to be put off till August, while the UNP wants it in the third week of July. Along with the PTA, Ms. Kumaratunga also invoked the Public Security Ordinance, from which Emergency powers flow, to call out the Army to police and maintain essential services throughout the country.

It is not clear yet if the invoking of the Public Security Ordinance needs parliamentary approval. If it does, such approval has to be given within 10 days of the proclamation. Newspaper reports suggested that the President would issue the proclamation every 10 days so that it need not come up before the House at all.

Meanwhile, a strike called by Tamil parties in protest against violence against women by security personnel brought life in north-eastern Sri Lanka to a grinding halt. Shops, establishments, schools and universities remained closed. There was virtually no public transport and thin attendance was reported in Government offices.

The strike, called after a recent incident of rape of a Tamil woman in Colombo by policemen, was reported to be total in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, while the Muslim population of Ampara also participated in the protest in a show of solidarity with the Tamils.

In the capital, a protest demonstration was held in the Fort area, and shops in Tamil-dominated areas remained closed.