South Asia

Sri Lanka: thousands attend Sarath Fonseka rally

Anoma Fonseka at the rally on Tuesday 8 February
Image caption Anoma Fonseka called for the immediate release of her husband

Opposition supporters in Sri Lanka have taken part in a demonstration in the capital Colombo to mark a year since the detention of the losing presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka.

He was detained after defeat by the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In September he was moved to prison after a military court found him guilty of corruption.

About 3,000 people took part in the protest, which called for Mr Fonseka's release, a BBC correspondent says.

The BBC's Elmo Fernando in Colombo says a variety of different parties took part in the one-hour rally, which was mostly peaceful and held under heavy security.

Supporters of the left wing JVP, or People's Liberation Front, chanted anti-government slogans and carried placards demanding the release of Mr Fonseka who is serving a 30-month sentence after being convicted by a court martial.

Among those taking part in the protest, outside Welikada jail, was Mr Fonseka's wife, Anoma, who told the crowd not to give up their struggle until her husband was released.

Police closed a section of the main road outside the prison to prevent a repeat of violence on Friday when government supporters clashed with supporters of Mr Fonseka.

Because he is in jail, he has lost the parliamentary seat he won last April. Mr Fonseka still faces more court cases.

Kicking and screaming

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo say 13 months ago it seemed Mahinda Rajapaksa might have met his electoral match.

Image caption Mr Fonseka's supporters say he was imprisoned because he dared to challenge the president

Sarath Fonseka had led the army to victory over the Tamil Tigers but fell out with his former friend over who should take the glory for that victory.

The fact that both men were ardent Sinhalese nationalists only made the election fight more bitter.

But as the results showed Mr Rajapaksa winning, it became clear just how much Gen Fonseka would suffer after his electoral challenge.

His campaign hotel was surrounded by troops and 12 days later, he was taken into custody by military police and an officer junior to himself.

His detractors - and every government figure swiftly became one - say he was plotting a coup, and that two court martial verdicts against him show he was guilty of dabbling in politics while in uniform and corruptly securing arms deals.

But Sarath Fonseka's supporters say he was detained for daring to challenge Mr Rajapaksa at the polls.

The opposition says his fate points to the government's intolerance of dissent.

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