Lankan opposition asks govt to lift curbs

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Colombo: Sri Lanka`s opposition on Wednesday demanded that the government lift the emergency before local elections in March, saying there was no justification for continuing curbs, two years after the end of civil strife in the country.

Daring President Mahinda Rajapaksa to win local elections without enforcing a state of emergency, the opposition said the government was afraid of testing the will of the people in a free atmosphere.

People`s Liberation Front, or JVP, Secretary General Tilvin Silva charged that the government was maintaining the draconian emergency laws to use them in upcoming local council elections.

The tough laws were enacted initially to deal with the separatist Tamil rebels in 1978, but the sweeping powers are still maintained nearly two years after the government claimed defeating the rebels in 2009.

Silva told reporters here that the government was also afraid of testing the will of the people in urban areas and would take the cover of forthcoming cricket world cup to delay polls.

More than 300 municipal, urban and village councils will go to the polls in March for the first time since the army defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 and declared an end to 37 years of ethnic conflict.

The JVP leader claimed the government is expected to delay voting in Colombo, Hambantota and Kandy in municipal and urban councils which are located near cricket venues.

He said the real reason was that the government was afraid it may not do too well in urban areas where fixed wage earners are grappling with high living costs.

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 clearing the way for a free and fair election.

"There is no justification for dragging on the state of emergency nearly two years after the war has ended," Silva said. "Earlier, the government`s excuse was the war, but it is not there anymore."

The government argues that it needs the tough emergency laws to prevent ethnic Tamil separatists regrouping.

The US and EU nations and international rights groups have urged Sri Lanka to ease the curbs.

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