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Sri Lankan president proposes end of emergency laws imposed for most of past 30 years
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) ' Sri Lanka's president Thursday proposed ending the wartime emergency laws that have curbed civil and political liberties in the country for most of the past 30 years.
Parliament has extended the laws every month, but President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the legislature they were no longer needed because the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels were defeated more than two years ago.
"Today I propose to this assembly the withdrawal of the emergency laws to enable the country to conduct its affairs through its normal laws and in a democratic manner," Rajapaksa said. "I do this because I am satisfied that we no longer need emergency laws for our governance."
The island has been under a state of emergency since 1983 except for brief lapses to help peace talks between the government and rebels. The emergency was allowed to lapse in 2002 and reimposed in 2005, with the assassination of then foreign minster Lakshman Kadirgamar. The rebels were blamed for his death.
With the announcement, Rajapaksa is expected not to proclaim an emergency next month and ask Parliament to approve it.
A suspect detained under the emergency laws can be held up to one year without appearing a court and can't be released on bail. Hundreds of people are detained for many years.
The law also enabled the authorities to displace civilians from their lands and declare high security zones and even to bury dead bodies without a post-mortem, lawyer Jagath Liyanaarachi said.
The military is involved in maintaining law and order in place of police and the authorities can ban rallies and demonstrations under the emergency provisions.
The government has been under intense international pressure to end the state of emergency. Human rights groups have accused authorities of using its provisions to crack down on the media and restrict freedom of speech despite the end of the war. The government scaled back some of the provisions last year.
Jehan Perera, an analyst with local activist group National Peace Council said with the emergency's lapse, the people's "freedom to engage in public political activity will be enhanced."
"The military can't play a role in keeping law and order and military check points will not be possible," he said adding that the military will also have to keep away from civil administration in the former war zones in the north.
Sri Lankan forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009, ending a 26-year civil war aimed at creating an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils.
The United Nations says 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the conflict.