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Top Sri Lanka court takes up constitutional changes

[AFP, Tuesday, 31 August 2010 14:09 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Tuesday began assessing a draft bill that would amend the island’s constitution to allow President Mahinda Rajapakse to run for office for a third term.

Registrar of the Supreme Court said the five-judge bench would give their decision to the president and speaker of parliament within 24 hours, with a vote in parliament then expected to take place next week.

On Monday, the cabinet approved a proposal to scrap the two-term limit for presidents, which would enable Rajapakse to strengthen his grip on power by standing again in November 2016.

The main opposition United National Party called for a referendum and accused the government of "bulldozing" constitutional amendments through parliament.

Six lawyers acting for opposition political parties and civic rights groups filed objections during the proceedings at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

"The constitutional amendments do not reflect peoples’ wishes," opposition UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake told reporters at a press conference.

Rajapakse came to power in 2005 and won a second presidential term in January, propelled by the victory of government forces over the Tamil Tiger rebels last May, which ended 37 years of bloodshed.

Critics and human rights groups accuse him and his family members, who hold key positions in government, of ruling Sri Lanka with an iron fist, crushing dissent and the opposition media.

The government information department said the Supreme Court decision would be announced in parliament for a debate on September 8, with a final vote expected the day after.

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