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Protests over jailing of Sri Lanka’s ex-army chief

[AFP, Tuesday, 12 October 2010 07:46 No Comment]

Thousands of protestors marched through the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital Monday, demanding the release of ex-army chief and opposition leader Sarath Fonseka who is serving a 30-month jail term.

Activists led by Fonseka’s Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and his wife Anoma marched to the maximum security Welikada prison in Colombo, witnesses said. They were dressed in black as a sign of protest.

"End this cruel vendetta," said a placard carried by those leading the march.

It was the biggest protest since Fonseka began his prison sentence on September 30 after a military court martial found him guilty of irregular procurements when he was the head of the army.

"This is an effort to bring justice to our wronged war hero," DNP legislator Tiran Alles said.

Fonseka has accused the government of seeking revenge for his decision to stand against the president at January polls.

Fonseka, 59, was initially hailed as a national hero the military victory over Tamil Tiger rebels that ended nearly 40 years of ethnic war in the Indian ocean island republic.

However, he fell out with his commander-in-chief President Mahinda Rajapakse soon after defeating the guerrillas. He was arrested shortly after losing the presidential polls, but won a seat at April parliamentary elections.

A fresh legal battle has erupted over whether Fonseka can remain an MP following his jailing by a military court.

The former top commander was being held in virtual solitary confinement and had to sleep on the floor in a mosquito-infested cell, but he was not prepared to seek clemency, Anoma Fonseka has said.

The government has maintained that it would consider a presidential pardon if Fonseka or an immediate family member made an appeal on his behalf.

The Tigers’ defeat ended nearly 40 years of separatist conflict in Sri Lanka, but rights groups, led by Amnesty International, say thousands of civilians were also killed in the final onslaught.

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