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Sri Lanka to outlaw Tamil Tigers

Sri Lanka will still detain hundreds of terror suspects and continue to outlaw the defeated rebel Tamil Tiger group despite lifting wartime emergency laws, an official has said.

An ethnic Tamil lawmaker condemned the moves as undemocratic and said the anti-terrorism law the government is expanding is too restrictive and should be abolished.

The emergency laws that have curbed civil and political liberties for most of the past 30 years lapsed on Tuesday after the government did not renew them.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the laws were no longer needed, more than two years after Sri Lanka's deadly civil war ended and under international pressure to lift the emergency.

However Mr Rajapaksa approved four regulations under the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act that became effective immediately on a temporary basis, said Attorney General Mohan Peiris. The government will seek to make the regulations permanent.

The first two regulations will continue to ban the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, which received donor funds to rehabilitate rebel-controlled areas and was accused of financing the rebels.

The other two regulations will allow the government to continue to hold rebel suspects and rehabilitate the rebels who have surrendered, he said. Mr Peiris did not say how long the suspects in custody will be detained. Tamil lawmakers say there are about 900 such detainees.

The government is also holding about 3,000 former rebels in military-run rehabilitation centres. About 11,000 Tamil rebels surrendered at the end of the war and nearly 8,000 have been freed after rehabilitation, the military says.

The United States on Thursday urged Sri Lanka to either charge the detainees or release them. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the White House was still studying the new legislation, but praised Sri Lanka for letting the emergency laws lapse.

"We believe that this could well be a significant step towards normalizing life for the people of Sri Lanka," he said.

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