Sri Lankan president tightens his hold on power

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Sri Lanka's parliament voted to eliminate term limits for the president yesterday, a move critics say could lead to dictatorship.

The amendment will also tighten President Mahinda Rajapaksa's hold on power by giving him total control over the judiciary, police and the civil service. The main opposition group, the United National Party, boycotted the vote and burned an effigy of Mr Rajapaksa at a protest in the capital, Colombo.

But the constitutional amendment passed easily, with 161 votes in the 225-member parliament, which is 11 votes more than the two-thirds majority required. Seventeen MPs voted against it.

The constitution used to limit the president to two six-year terms, so Mr Rajapaksa's term starting in November would have been his last. Prime Minister Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Jayaratne has defended the move as giving the president the same right that other elected representatives have to seek office without restrictions.