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Sri Lankan lawyers join protests over detained general

[Reuters, Friday, 12 February 2010 12:51 No Comment]

Hundreds of Sri Lankan lawyers staged a silent march in the capital Friday in a third day of street protests seeking the release of losing presidential candidate Sanath Fonseka.

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

The black-robed lawyers marched out of the Supreme Court building towards a nearby street intersection where eight people were injured when clashes broke out between supporters of Fonseka and the government earlier in the week. "Release Sanath Fonseka soon," a banner carried by the lawyers, said.

The former army general and President Mahinda Rajapaksa worked together in ending a 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.

Political unrest could affect Sri Lanka’s $40 billion economy just as it is poised to grow over 6 percent this year due to post-war economic optimism and high foreign investments, analysts say.

Shares hit a one-week low Friday, reflecting concerns over the standoff between the government and the opposition which has rallied around the army general. The bench mark index was down 0.4 percent, continuing a fall for the fourth straight session.

Fonseka was roundly defeated in the January 26 presidential poll, after which he accused president Rajapaksa of rigging the vote. His supporters said they would seek legal action over the vote.

Friday, the Supreme Court admitted a petition filed by Fonseka’s wife on grounds that his detention in military custody was illegal. The court gave the government four weeks to give its reply to the petition.

"The court heard the both petitioner’s and Attorney General’s side and granted leave to proceed," said Chrishmal Warnasuriya, a lawyer who appeared on behalf of Fonseka.

The government has not yet detailed what charges the army general will face, but Rajpakasa said earlier he was plotting a coup.

[Full Coverage]

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