For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
– Wed Jan 12,
COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s opposition Wednesday demanded an end to emergency law ahead of local elections in March, saying there was no reason for restrictions two years after the end of the island’s conflict.
More than 300 municipal, urban and village councils will be elected in March for the first time since government forces crushed Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 and declared an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed.
The emergency laws, introduced in the late 1970s, allow the police to detain suspects without trial and restrict the opposition during their campaigning.
The main opposition parties have complained that their activists have been arrested under emergency laws while putting up anti-ruling party posters.
They said the emergency, which gives sweeping powers to police and troops to detain suspects for long periods without trial, should be lifted to clear the way for unrestricted campaigning.
“There is no justification for dragging on the state of emergency nearly two years after the war has ended,” the general secretary of the leftist People’s Liberation Front (JVP), Tilvin Silva, said.
“Earlier, the government’s excuse was the war, but it is not there anymore.”
Voting for some councils near cricket venues in Colombo and two other districts will be put off because of the cricket World Cup, which is being jointly hosted by Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.
Political sources said the local election would be a key test of the government’s popularity as the country emerges from debilitating ethnic strife, and a challenge to the highly fractured opposition.
The government has argued that it needs the tough emergency laws to prevent ethnic Tamil separatists regrouping.
The United States and EU nations and international rights groups have urged Sri Lanka to ease the laws.