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Sri Lanka - presidential election

President pledges fair poll amid accusations of coup

Article published on the 2010-01-25 Latest update 2010-01-25 12:56 TU

A police officer escorts a man carrying a ballot box to a polling station in Colombo.Photo: Reuters

A police officer escorts a man carrying a ballot box to a polling station in Colombo.
Photo: Reuters

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse on Monday denied claims that he is planning to reclaim power by force if his main challenger Sarath Fonseka wins Tuesday's presidential poll. Rajapaksa says that the government will do everything necessary to ensure a peaceful election.

"The Sri Lanka government calls for a peaceful election, and stands committed to taking whatever steps deemed necessary to ensure the same," said a statement released by Rajapakse's office on the eve of the election.

The statement follows accusations that the government is preparing to mount a coup if it is defeated in Tuesday’s vote.

Rajapakse plans to post special forces outside the homes and offices of all opposition leaders on election day, according to the leader of the opposition United National Party (UNP), Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe also claims that 15 armoured personnel carriers have been moved into the capital Colombo, while several key army commanders have been sent abroad, supposedly for training.

"The government is desperate," said Wickremesinghe, who claims to have had the information from sources within the security forces.

Rajapakse's office called the allegations an attempt to justify the  imminent defeat it predicts for the opposition.

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama accused Fonseka’s campaign of collaborating with foreign interests and armed renegades from the Sri Lankan army.

These latest allegations are part of a series of claims and counter-claims made by both sides in the run-up to the election.

Fonseka on Saturday accused Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of plotting to forge ballot papers. He also claims that the government is responsible for a campaign of harassment against opposition supporters, including the bombing of one activist’s house and the attempted arrest of one of Fonseka’s top aides for the illegal possession of a firearm.

Government authorities in turn claim to have found a stash of weapons at a Buddhist temple run by one of Fonseka’s supporters.

Sri Lanka’s media has become a battleground for the rival factions.

Journalists have expressed concern at the manipulation of state media to back Rajapakse, reports the Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka blog – for example by reporting that opposition activists planned to stage post-election clashes “in an attempt to belittle the sure victory” of the ruling government.

Yet the opposition’s campaign received a significant boost on Sunday when one of the senior members of the SLFP, Chandrika Kumaratunga, switched her allegiance to Fonseka.

"Our party has deteriorated in recent years and I see an opportunity to revive it through a change of the present culture,” said Kumaratunga, a former President and well-respected figure in Sri Lanka.

"I took the decision to end four years of silence as I am deeply concerned about the violence, intimidation and corruption."

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