Sri Lanka crackdown shreds hopes of reconciliation

February 25, 2010 (AFP) – In the afterglow of his thumping re-election last month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse promised to build a strong and unified country that would consign its 37-year civil war to the past. Instead, his government launched a sweeping crackdown that has seen the man he defeated at the polls, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, taken into military custody, and other opposition figures and senior journalists arrested.

The clampdown disappointed those who had hoped Rajapakse would be magnanimous in victory, with the opposition labelling it a purge against anyone deemed to have supported Fonseka’s challenge for the presidency.

Accusations of coup plots and other conspiracies have fuelled a belief among some observers that Rajapakse, despite routing his rival at the ballot box, remains paranoid about dissent and intent on augmenting his already substantial executive powers.

“What I see is a slide into autocratic rule,” said the head of the private Centre for Policy Alternatives think-tank, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

“There is a stifling of any kind of opposition and the arrest of Fonseka is the most conspicuous aspect of that,” he told AFP.

James Manor, a Sri Lanka analyst