Central & South Asia
Protesters clash in S Lanka capital
Pro- and anti-government groups come to blows amid tensions over general's arrest.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2010 09:31 GMT

Opposition supporters were protesting against the arrest of General Sarath Fonseka [Reuters]

Police have fired tear gas to break up protests by pro- and anti-government groups demonstrating in the capital Colombo.

The clashes on Wednesday come a day after Sri Lanka's president dissolved parliament ahead of elections planned for April and amid rising tensions over the arrest of General Sarath Fonseka, the defeated presidential candidate.

Opposition organisers had called for a show of force outside Sri Lanka's supreme court to demonstrate against the arrest of Fonseka, and subsequent announcement that the retired general would be court-martialled for allegedly planning to overthrow the government while serving as head of the army.

Al Jazeera's Minelle Fernandez, reporting from Colombo, said there was heavy police deployment in the city to monitor the situation.

"When they [the opposition] were assembling, basically, there was a counter-demonstration that was put together by pro-government supporters. There was a lot of tension between both groups and clashes broke out," Fernandez said.

"Subsequently, the pro-government supporters have dispersed, but the opposition protesters remain."

'Dragged away'

Fonseka, who as a senior general helped defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels last May, lost to Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's incumbent president, in January 26th's presidential elections.

in depth
  Profile: Sarath Fonseka
  Profile: Mahinda Rajapaksa
  Rajapaksa's minority report
  Sri Lanka opposition cries foul
  Video: Sri Lanka votes in Rajapaksa
The retired general accused the government of rigging the election and vowed to challenge the result in the Supreme Court.

But with just one week left to file the relevant legal papers, supporters of Fonseka say military police stormed the offices of the opposition alliance in Colombo which had backed his candidacy on Monday night and "dragged him" away.

Fonseka's wife says he was treated like an animal when he was arrested at his office.

"He's the man who rescued Sri Lanka from the culture of terrorism and I can't believe they're doing this type of thing to him - I don't know what type of law exists in this country," Anoma Fonseka said on Tuesday.

"We always knew that the government will try to arrest my husband, but we never thought they would do it in such a disgusting manner."

War crimes charges

In an official statement, the government said that the former army chief was "hell-bent" on betraying the country's "gallant armed forces".

It cited as evidence the general's remarks on Monday that he would be ready to give evidence in an international court on war crimes charges against the state.

General Fonseka was defeated by incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in last month's poll

More than 7,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the fighting that crushed the rebels last May.

Human rights groups have accused the military of shelling hospitals and heavily populated civilian areas during the fighting, and the rebels of holding the local population as human shields.

A US state department report has also accused both sides of possible war crimes, and the issue remains a sensitive subject for the government.

Many credit Fonseka with winning the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, but he fell out with Rajapaksa soon after and the pair fought a bitter election campaign.

Earlier this month, Rajapaksa sacked a dozen senior military officers described by the defence ministry as a threat to national security. More were arrested from Fonseka's office.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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