August 17, 2001

Sri Lanka Opposition Unite on Motion


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- In a rare show of unity, Sri Lanka's opposition parties said Friday they would go ahead with a no-confidence motion against the government when President Chandrika Kumaratunga reconvenes Parliament on Sept. 7.

The decision, announced after a meeting of seven opposition parties, comes as Kumaratunga's government struggles with economic problems, political challenges and a serious military defeat.

Together the opposition parties have 113 deputies in the 225-seat chamber, just enough to defeat Kumaratunga's coalition government, which has the support of 111 lawmakers. The speaker, who chairs the house proceedings, will be called to vote in the event of a tie.

``We want this government to go and we will table the no-confidence motion,'' said Ranil Wickremesinghe, head of Sri Lanka's main opposition United National Party.

The economic woes began after rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam attacked the country's only international airport and an adjoining air base, destroying 12 aircraft on July 24.

Shipping lines have stopped service to the island nation to escape heavy insurance premiums after the attack prompted underwriters to raise their rates. Some hotels are planning to close due to lack of tourists, the country's fourth-largest foreign currency earner.

Sri Lanka depends heavily on imports of food and essential goods for its 18.6 million people. Even potatoes and onions are imported.

The government must also spend more money to acquire aircraft and weapons to fight the rebels, whose morale is high after last month's devastating attack.

The Tamil rebels have been battling since 1983 for a separate homeland in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. The fighting has killed 64,000 people.

Kumaratunga's government plunged into a political crisis after she fired a Muslim minister from her Cabinet in July. The minister defected with six lawmakers, reducing the governing alliance to a minority in Parliament.

When the opposition gathered enough votes on July 11 to bring a no-confidence motion against her, Kumaratunga suspended Parliament for 60 days. The opposition has been demanding her resignation ever since.