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Sri Lanka’s hero general faces court-martial

[AP, Tuesday, 16 March 2010 11:10 No Comment]

The general who led the army to victory in Sri Lanka’s civil war and then was roundly defeated in his bid for the presidency faced a court-martial Tuesday on allegations of sedition.

The military proceeding against former army chief Sarath Fonseka has been condemned by the opposition and human rights groups, who accuse the government of retaliating against a man who dared challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his re-election bid.

"Sarath Fonseka’s arrest continues the Rajapaksa government’s postelection crackdown on political opposition," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.

Police used tear gas and batons to disperse a protest in support of Fonseka and arrested 14 people, according to a member of Fonseka’s party, the Democratic National Alliance.

The proceedings against Fonseka, scheduled to begin Tuesday before a three-member panel, were shrouded in secrecy. Reporters were barred from the event and the military refused to confirm where it was being held and even if it had started.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Prasad Samarasinghe said the media must await an official statement.

Lawmaker Anura Dissanayake, a Fonseka ally, said the political opposition also had no details of the proceedings.

Fonseka was arrested Feb. 8 on allegations he undermined the government by preparing his presidential campaign while still in army uniform and that he violated regulations in purchasing military ware.

Fonseka’s supporters have denied the allegations. They say the government is punishing the retired general for challenging Rajapaksa and is attempting to cow the opposition before April 8 parliamentary elections.

Police used tear gas to disperse a protest against the court-martial in the town of Panadura, south of the capital, Colombo, according to Democratic National Alliance party member Nalindra Jayatissa.

He said 14 protesters were arrested and two others were hospitalized after being beaten by police.

Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said he would not comment until he receives a report from local police.

Rajapaksa and Fonseka were once strong allies in their campaign to defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels and end their 25-year armed campaign for an independent state.

After routing the rebels last May, both were hailed as heroes by the country’s Sinhalese majority. But they quickly turned on each other. Fonseka quit the army, challenged Rajapaksa in the Jan. 26 election and lost by 18 percent.

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