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Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka Opposition Leader, Arrested

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's defeated presidential candidate was hauled from his office by military police Monday and will be court-martialed for allegedly planning to overthrow the government while serving as the head of the army.

Sarath Fonseka, who as the top general helped defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels, was forcibly detained after objecting to his arrest, opposition politician Rauff Hakeem told The Associated Press.

Fonseka and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were once strong allies who combined to end the country's 25-year civil war last May. But they subsequently fell out, and Fonseka quit his post. They contested a bitter election last month for the presidency that Rajapaksa won by 17 percentage points, according to official results.

Even as those votes were counted on Jan. 26, hundreds of government troops surrounded a Colombo hotel where Fonseka and other opposition leaders had gathered to await the results. He was later allowed to leave the building, but the show of force foreshadowed Monday's arrest.

Officials have repeatedly accused Fonseka of plotting to kill Rajapaksa and overthrow the government with the help of army deserters and former military officers since the election. Fonseka has called the allegations fabricated and vowed to push on with his political career. A number of serving officers, which the government said were considered to be a threat to national security, have been fired.

Now, government minister Keheliya Rambukwella says Fonseka will be tried in a military court on charges of conspiring against the president and planning a coup while army chief.

"When he was the army commander and chief of defense staff and member of the security council, he had direct contact with opposition political parties, which under the military law can amount to conspiracy," Rambukwella said.

"He's been plotting against the president while in the military ... with the idea of overthrowing the government," he added.

Mano Ganeshan, an opposition lawmaker, said Fonseka was "arrested and forcibly carried away" while having a discussion with a group of political allies.

Hakeem said Fonseka objected to being arrested by military police instead of civilian officers, since he was no longer in the military.

The officers dragged Fonseka and his secretary by their hands and legs into their vehicles, Hakeem said.

"He was humiliated and disgraced in the way he was handled. We were just flabbergasted," he said.

Since the Jan. 26 election, Fonseka has complained that the government was attempting to arrest him on trumped up charges. Last week, security forces raided his office and arrested at least 15 of his staff.

"We have to ask why now? Why not six months ago when he was a military officer," asked Jehan Perera, an analyst with independent activist group, National Peace Council.

"One has to think that it is politically motivated," Perera said adding that there is a suspicion that the motive may have been to stop him challenging the results of the presidential election or to prevent Fonseka from leading the opposition in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Fonseka has vowed to contest that vote, due by April. The unofficial campaign season is already well under way.

The opposition has rejected the results of the presidential election, accusing the government of stealing more than 1 million of Fonseka's votes during the tallying process, and said it will challenge them in court.

It has also accused the government of a campaign of threats, intimidation and illegal imprisonment of its supporters and activists.

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Associated Press writer Bharatha Mallawarachi contributed to this report.

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