Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sri Lanka monks put off meet fearing unrest

Sri Lanka's top Buddhist monks postponed Wednesday a gathering to press for the release from military custody of defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, citing safety concerns.

The conference, bringing together the heads of all the island's major Buddhist sects, had been scheduled for Thursday.

"Given the current political climate in the country and considering the safety of the monks and laymen, the chief priests decided to put off their gathering," the monks said in a joint statement.

The postponement followed strong criticism of the monks in the state-run media for dabbling in politics, after they sent a letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse condemning former army chief Fonseka's arrest and urging his immediate release.

As the battlefield architect of the victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels last May, Fonseka was feted as a national hero for finally crushing their 37-year campaign for an independent Tamil homeland.

After falling out with Rajapakse, he quit the army in November and ran against the president in elections on January 26. Rajapakse won comfortably, and two weeks later Fonseka was taken into military custody.

He is currently awaiting court martial on unspecified charges of conspiring against the government while he was head of the army.

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition submitted by Fonseka's wife calling for his arrest to be ruled illegal.

Fonseka's detention has triggered violent protests in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka and drawn expressions of concern from the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and several other countries.


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