Sri Lankan judge gives Rajapaksa extra time in power

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Sri Lanka's supreme court yesterday ruled President Mahinda Rajapaksa can begin his new term in November, giving him an extra year in power after he called polls two years before his first term was to expire.

Mr Rajapaksa won a new six-year term in a landslide victory last week, correctly gambling that his popularity after leading Sri Lanka to victory in a 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger separatists in May would carry him.

"The Supreme Court says the new term begins on 19 November this year," an official in the President's office said. A senior presidential ally confirmed the date.

The court's decision, following a request by Mr Rajapaksa, cements his firm hold on the reins of the Indian Ocean island nation until 2016, despite opposition vows of street protests today over what it says was a stolen election.

The President's latest victory came as the government removed 14 military officers it said had offered political support to General Sarath Fonseka, the former army commander who was Mr Rajapaksa's opposition rival in a bitterly personal race.

Fourteen officers, including five major-generals and five brigadiers, have been made to retire with full benefits, the director of the Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle, said. One brigadier was arrested. "Retention of such officers who have violated military discipline and the code of ethics by actively participating in political work during their tenure is considered a direct threat to the national security," he said.

The political veteran Mr Rajapaksa won a bruising electoral duel with an 18-point margin over General Fonseka, who stood victorious with the President in May but fell out with him, quit the army and entered the race as an opposition candidate.

Since the day after the 26 January poll, the government has said it was investigating a suspected coup and assassination plot involving former army officials it said were allied to General Fonseka.