Rights groups criticise Lankan govt

COLOMBO: International rights groups today criticised the Sri Lankan government for a clampdown on opponents after last week's election and condemned the detention of suspected Tamil rebels.

Amnesty International said pressure on opposition parties has been mounting since President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected on January 26, defeating his former army chief Sarath Fonseka.

"Victory against the Tamil Tigers followed by a historic election should have ended political repression in Sri Lanka,

but instead we have seen a serious clampdown on freedom of expression," said Amnesty's deputy director for Asia-Pacific Madhu Malhotra.

Amnesty cited the

post-poll arrests of opposition supporters and

journalists, death threats against several prominent newspaper editors and

the harassment of

trade unionists.

The independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence reported more than 85 post-election incidents, including two murders and several assaults.

"Threats, beatings and arrests mean that Sri Lankan human rights activists live in fear of the consequences of expressing their political opinions," said Malhotra.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Sri Lanka to end its indefinite detention of more than 11,000 people suspected of having links to the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were finally defeated in May last year.

The government said those in detention had surrendered when some 300,000 ethnic minority Tamils were displaced during the final weeks of the decades-long conflict.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's highest court ruled today that President Rajapaksa's new six-year term in office won't start until almost the end of the year.

Rajapaksa called the snap poll two years

before his first mandate was up, trying to cash in on a wave of popularity after the government's crushing defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

Although Rajapaksa was declared the winner on January 27, the country's Supreme Court said in its ruling that the new six-year term will start on November 19, according to a statement from the president's office.

The reasoning of the court's decision was not made available.