South Asia

Sri Lankan minister ends UN hunger strike protest

President Mahinda Rajapaksa with Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa, 10 July
Image caption President Rajapaksa offers Mr Weerawansa liquid

A Sri Lankan cabinet minister has ended a hunger strike outside the UN headquarters in Colombo after three days, having earlier threatened to starve himself to death.

Wimal Weerawansa was trying to force UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to halt a human rights panel on Sri Lanka.

Hundreds of others have been demonstrating at the UN compound.

The protest has angered the UN. Mr Ban said the compound must return to normal and he recalled the UN representative.

The focus of the anger is the UN special panel set up to advise Mr Ban on war crimes allegedly committed during the civil war in Sri Lanka, which ended last year in the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Religious ceremonies

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says Mr Weerawansa was visited first by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa then by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Our correspondent says the president took a glass of water, pressed it to the lips of the prostrate Mr Weerawansa and made him sip.

Within minutes, the minister was put on a stretcher and into an ambulance.

His fans chanted their support and it was announced that there would be religious ceremonies to bless him.

Our correspondent says ending a fast-unto-death on the third day is not uncommon in South Asia and many Sri Lankans will now be confirmed in their view that this was an elaborate and diplomatically unfortunate publicity stunt.

Sri Lanka has set up its own panel on the lessons of the war and the government believes the behaviour of its troops does not need to be scrutinised by external forces.

On Thursday, Mr Ban recalled his top envoy to the island, Neil Buhne, and closed a regional office in Colombo over the protest.

The protest also angered foreign missions.

Ten embassies in Colombo issued a joint statement condemning the demonstrations, which they said would harm Sri Lanka's reputation on the international stage.

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