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U.S. says Sri Lanka amendment undermines democracy

Sep 11, 2010 3:34:24 PM- transcurrents.com

Sep 11, (Reuters) - The United States on Saturday condemned Sri Lanka's passage of a constitutional amendment granting the president vast new powers, saying it undermined democracy.

Sri Lanka's parliament on Wednesday voted for the measure sought by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which removes a presidential two-term limit and grants him more power over appointments to the police, judiciary, public service and electoral commissions.

"The United States is concerned that this constitutional amendment weakens checks and balances and thus undermines the principles of constitutional democracy," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement.

Crowley called on Rajapaksa's government to take steps to strengthen independent institutions, increase transparency and promote national reconciliation in the Indian Ocean nation, which is recovering from a long civil war.

The government argued the constitutional change was justified to give Rajapaksa, whose second term ends in 2017, time to build Sri Lanka's $42 billion economy after victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists last year.

Opposition and rights groups criticized the measure as a blow to democracy and a step toward dictatorship by Rajapaksa, who parlayed last year's victory over the rebels into a re-election to a second term in January and a landslide for his United Peoples Freedom Alliance party in parliament in April.

However, critics accuse him of stifling dissent, jailing opponents and disregarding the rule of law as he holds an office with almost unchecked control of the government.

Sri Lanka's relationship with Western nations was strained earlier this year after it objected to a decision by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint an independent panel to assess whether crimes were committed during the final months of Sri Lanka's war against the Tamil rebels in May 2009.

Rights groups said the U.N. panel was necessary because Sri Lanka appeared unwilling to seriously investigate possible abuses itself.

The government denies any war crimes took place, but rights groups say that both the government and the Tamil Tigers were guilty of human rights violations that resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths. - courtesy: Reuters -