Astrologer failed to see twist in political fortune

A popular astrologer who predicted that the President of Sri Lanka would be ousted from office has been arrested.

Chandrasiri Bandara told an opposition party meeting that Mahinda Rajapaksa would be replaced by the Prime Minister on 9 September.

While jokes about astrologers failing to foretell their own demise are legion, the arrest of Mr Bandara has triggered fears that the government may be increasing the pressure on dissent after its victory over rebel forces last month.

The police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera told the Associated Press that Mr Bandara made his comments last week. It is not clear whether he specified what he thought would happen to Mr Rajapaksa. The spokesman said that the astrologer had been arrested on Wednesday to allow police to investigate the source of his prediction.

Curiously, the prediction was made at a time when Mr Rajapaksa's popularity has soared in the wake of the defeat of the LTTE, ending a 25-year-long civil war. Since then the country has been busy with victory parades and the President has been hailed as a king; his party has even suggested changing the constitution to make him President for life.

Astrology is influential in Sri Lankan society. Many plan weddings and special events based on the advice of such advisers. Mr Rajapaksa himself has said that he too is a devoted believer and often consults a favourite astrologer for advice on what time to make speeches or to depart for trips.

Mr Bandara, who has a weekly television show and writes a deeply political column for a pro-opposition newspaper, is one of the most popular astrologers in the country. The opposition United National Party condemned the arrest. "The crime committed by Bandara is not making predictions favourable to the government," it said.

In the wake of the victory over the rebels, the government has announced the re-establishment of a powerful press council with the authority to jail journalists. According to Amnesty International, at least 14 journalists have been killed by suspected government paramilitaries and rebels since the beginning of 2006. The government has denied involvement in such incidents.