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Sri Lanka coalition in survival talks, police tear gas monks
Sri Lanka's president won crucial support from the main opposition Monday to save her shaky government after a coalition partner threatened to quit over a proposed aid deal with Tamil Tiger rebels, political sources said.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga held closed-door talks with main opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe after discussions with other political leaders and secured guarantees of support for her administration, a source close to the talks said.
"The message from the talks is that she should go ahead without fearing a collapse of the government," the source said.
"She was encouraged to take a decision soon, possibly tomorrow or the day after."
The one-on-one meeting was held at Kumaratunga's tightly-guarded official residence after police used batons, tear gas and water cannons to prevent saffron-robed monks from barging in.
Despite mounting protests and opposition from within the ruling Freedom Alliance coalition, the president was determined to go ahead with the "joint mechanism" to disburse aid with the Tigers, an official in her office said.
"She met with ruling party legislators and indicated that a deal could be concluded in a day or two," the official said. "The president met with MPs from the (opposition) Tamil National Alliance separately to discuss the issue."
The government's main coalition ally, the Marxist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, has said it will quit on Thursday unless the president withdraws the aid proposal by Wednesday night.
The JVP has 39 seats in the 225-member assembly and any pullout could lead to the collapse of the 14-month-old government, which holds a slim, five-seat majority.
However, political sources said the JVP -- which claims a tsunami aid deal will lead to a separate homeland for Tamil Tiger rebels -- was more likely to quit its four cabinet positions and remain on the back bench rather than defect to the opposition and topple the administration.
"Even if the JVP quits, there are enough legislators in the opposition who support the idea of a joint mechanism and they can ensure that the government remains in office," a senior government official said.
Protestors from the National Monks' Front were halted by anti-riot squads while marching toward Kumaratunga's official residence. It was the second time in three days that police had clashed with Buddhist monks.
Police Monday also evicted protestors at the Colombo Fort railway station where a monk, Dhambara Amila, has been on a "death fast" since Saturday protesting the joint aid deal with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"The monk who is fasting may die and if one life is not enough for the president, we will mobilise another 1,000 people to sacrifice their lives to stop this," monk Kalawelgala Chandraloka told reporters before they were dispersed.
A death fast is a popular form of threat but has not been carried out by monks in Sri Lanka in living memory.
The Monks' Front said it opposes involving the Tigers in any effort to disburse aid to survivors of the December 26 tsunamis.
Another Buddhist monk gave up a "death fast" Saturday after Kumaratunga promised that she would consult the Buddhist hierarchy before finalising the aid deal.
Some 31,000 people were killed in the tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka and one million were initially left homeless. Much of the destruction was in the northeast, parts of which are dominated by the guerrillas.
International donors who have pledged three billion dollars have called on Colombo and the rebels to jointly disburse the tsunami aid.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.