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Fonseka's day out in parliament, says he is innocent

It was a narrow window of freedom after 72 days in military custody. But the couple of hours that former army chief Sarath Fonseka got in Parliament to attend its first session on Thursday as a new MP was enough for him to launch an attack on President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

world Updated: Apr 22, 2010 19:06 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

It was a narrow window of freedom after 72 days in military custody. But the couple of hours that former army chief Sarath Fonseka got in Parliament to attend its first session on Thursday as a new MP was enough for him to launch an attack on President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

"What the country needs is democracy, rule of law, personal freedoms and media freedom," Fonseka was quoted by AFP as having said in Parliament.

"I am glad I was able to come here and raise these issues as I am being unjustly held," he added.

It was Fonseka’s first public appearance since February 8 when he was arrested by the military.

Fonseka addressed the Parliament as the leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). He won a seat in the April 8 general election from military custody with his wife Anoma Fonseka campaigning on his behalf.

Fonseka was sworn in as a member of the parliament before the Speaker at the opening session of the seventh parliament.

Today’s session also saw Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa, taking over as Speaker.

“They want to put me into prison and are trying to remove my present parliament membership. If I have a right to speak as a member of parliament what has the Defence Ministry got to do? That is violating the privileges of a MP. The defence ministry is violating the constitution by trying to apply a media censorship on my attendance to parliament,” Fonseka told Daily Mirror online.

The former army chief credited with leading the Sri Lankan army to victory against the separatist Tamil Tigers last year resigned in November to join politics. He is currently under-going court martial for engaging in politics while in service and irregular procurement. Earlier in the day, Fonseka was escorted to Parliament in a military vehicle under heavy security from the Sri Lankan navy headquarters where he is under incarceration. A large number of military personnel were deployed along the route.

Journalists covering the first session of the new Parliament were not allowed to interact with Fonseka, triggering protests from the DNA who alleged that there was an attempt to censor him from the media.