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Central & South Asia
Fonseka begins hunger strike
Former Sri Lankan army chief launches protest against conditions of his detention.
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2010 16:33 GMT
Fonseka's supporters have launched a series of protests against his detention [Reuters]

General Sarath Fonseka, a former commander of the Sri Lankan army and a defeated presidential candidate, has begun a hunger strike to protest against the conditions of his detention by military forces.

Fonseka began the strike on Sunday after authorities barred him from using a telephone, members of his political party said in a statement.

The statement said a court had permitted Fonseka to use phones provided by his wife. But during her last visit on Saturday, the army told her that the right had been withdrawn.

Fonseka will fast until he is given access to phones again, The Associated Press news agency reported, citing his party.

The former army chief has been in military custody since February 8, when military police arrested him on charges of engaging in politics against Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's president, while still in uniform.

'Rigging the vote'

His arrest came after he lost by 1.8 million votes in a January 26 presidential election, after which he accused Rajapaksa, the incumbent, of rigging the vote.

in depth
  Profile: Sarath Fonseka
  Profile: Mahinda Rajapaksa
  Rajapaksa's minority report
  Sri Lanka opposition cries foul
  Video: Sri Lanka votes in Rajapaksa

Opposition parties have staged a series of protests to demand Fonseka's release despite attacks by police and government supporters.

Fonseka and Rajapaksa worked together to end the 25-year war against Tamil Tiger separatists last year, but fell out soon after.

Fonseka, who quit the military in November, used his fame to enter politics as an opposition presidential candidate.

The government said Fonseka had conspired against the president and would face a court-martial.

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has admitted a petition filed by Fonseka's wife on grounds that his detention in military custody is illegal. The court on February 12 gave the government four weeks to give its reply to the petition.

Analysts say political unrest could affect the country's $40bn economy as it is poised to grow more than six per cent this year due to post-war economic optimism and high foreign investment.

Fonseka's detention has sparked international concern with the US, the EU and the UN, among others, who have asked Colombo to ensure that due process is followed and  that democracy is not undermined.

Source:
Agencies
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