Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sri Lanka's ex-Army Commander addresses the parliament

Sri Lanka's former army chief has used his first opportunity to address Parliament as a newly elected lawmaker to demand his release from detention.

Sarath Fonseka, who unsuccessfully challenged President Mahinda Rajapaksa's re-election bid in January, was arrested a month later on accusations that he had planned his political career while still in uniform. He is being detained and is awaiting trial.

Fonseka was escorted by guards to Parliament to attend a swearing-in ceremony for the body's 225 lawmakers. During the ceremony, Fonseka and other party heads were permitted to address Parliament to offer congratulations to its new speaker - Chamal Rajapaksa, the president's brother.

Fonseka used the occasion to demand his freedom.

"The protection of democracy must begin here in Parliament," Fonseka said. "The citizens must have freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom from illegal detention."

Fonseka has denied the charges and his supporters say he is being punished for challenging Rajapaksa in the presidential race. He was elected to Parliament earlier this month.

Rajapaksa and Fonseka were hailed as heroes by a majority of Sri Lankans after they joined forces to crush a 25-year insurgency by the Tamil Tiger rebels last year. But after a falling out, Fonseka resigned from the army and entered politics.

Rajapaksa is expected to appoint a Cabinet later.


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