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Sri Lanka police crackdown on opposition protest

[Reuters, Thursday, 11 February 2010 13:44 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s police used batons to disperse hundreds of supporters of losing presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka on Thursday, a Reuters witness said, in a second day of protests against his arrest.

Tensions have risen on the island since former army commander Fonseka was arrested on Monday by military police on charges of engaging in politics against his president while still in uniform.

"Police are beating the protesters with batons," said a Reuters photographer at the scene of the protest in a Colombo suburb.

On Wednesday, at least eight people were injured when opposition activists clashed with government supporters outside the island nation’s Supreme Court, officials said. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The street protests, strikes and labour unrest could have a ripple effect on Sri Lanka’s $40 billion (25.6 billion pound) economy, which is poised to grow over 6 percent this year due to post-war economic optimism and high foreign investments, analysts say.

Fonseka and Rajapaksa worked together in ending the 25-year war against Tamil Tiger separatists last year, but fell out soon after. The government said Fonseka had conspired against the president and would face a court-martial.

Fonseka lost by an 18 percentage point margin to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 26 poll, after which he accused his former commander-in-chief of rigging the vote.

Earlier this week, Rajapaksa dissolved parliament ahead of schedule and called elections in April, hoping to build on his own victory in the presidential poll last month.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed Fonseka’s arrest with Rajapaksa in a telephone call and expressed concern about events in the Asian nation, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

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