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Sri Lanka Swears in New P.M.

October 13, 2000

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka’s president on Friday swore in a hard-line prime minister who believes the government should keep waging the war against Tamil rebels.

Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka, 67, who also was prime minister in the last government, was sworn in by President Chandrika Kumaratunga after she garnered enough support for a coalition government.

Kumaratunga scrambled to form a coalition after her People’s Alliance won only 107 seats in Tuesday’s parliamentary elections _ short of a majority, or 113 seats, in the 225-member Parliament.

Kumaratunga had called the election to try to win enough seats to push through a new constitution giving the minority Tamils greater autonomy in the north and east as a way to end the 17-year war waged by the Tamil Tigers for a homeland. The war has left 63,000 dead.

But she fell far short of winning the two-thirds majority to adopt the document in a regular session.

``There is an element of uncertainty, the whole issue of conflict resolution does not look good for peace,″ said Rohan Edirisinghe of the independent Center for Policy Alternatives.

One potential scenario under Sri Lanka’s parliamentary system would be to declare the Parliament a constituent assembly and pass the new constitution with a simple majority _ an option Kumaratunga has considered.

Kumaratunga _ who lost vision in her right eye after a Tamil Tiger suicide bombing on Dec. 18 _ had campaigned on a pledge to restore government stability, and had hoped to win the support of moderate Tamils and sideline the rebels.

Wickremanayaka became prime minister in August when Kumaratunga’s mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, stepped down. Wickremanayaka was chosen as part of a two-pronged strategy _ to wage the war and to try to lure the Tamil Tigers to the peace table.

Bandaranaike, who was 84 and had been prime minister three times, died shortly after she voted Tuesday. Friday was a day of national mourning, and a state funeral was to be held Saturday.

Wickremanayaka believes a new constitution should better represent the Sinhalese.

The Sinhalese majority, most of whom are Buddhist, comprise 76 percent of the 18.6 million people of this island nation off the southern tip of India. Tamils make up 14 percent and are mainly Hindus. The remaining 10 percent are Muslims and other minorities.

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