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Sri Lanka on the brink of new unrest

Sri Lanka is on the verge of new and potentially violent political unrest after the government challenged the main opposition candidate in the presidential election. The new threat was sparked by the country's first presidential election yesterday since Tamil Tiger rebels were defeated eight months ago after more than 25 years of civil war.The poll was a fierce duel between former allies, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current President, and Sarath Foneska, the former army chief who led the campaign against the Tigers. The pair fell out after the war ended last year and Sarath Foneska, resigned and joined the opposition. Turnout was more than70%. The result is due out today (Wednesday), and experts say it is too close to call because the two men, who both claim credit for beating the Tigers, have split the vote of the Sinhalese ethnic majority and had mixed results appealing to minority Tamils. 

Last night the Government challenged whether General Fonseka could legally stand as a candidate because he was not registered to vote.  “We are seeking a court order on the suitability of this candidate because he is not eligible to be declared as a candidate,” Rohitha Bogollagama, the Foreign Minister, told reporters. “We are not saying that he will emerge the winner. We are confident we will win, but we want the court to rule on his candidacy.” General Fonseka himself admitted just before the polls closed that he could not vote because his name was not on the electoral list. But later the opposition said General Fonseka was not ready to accept defeat, despite being unable to vote. “This was a desperate last attempt to turn the tide and it has not succeeded,” said Ranil Wickremasinghe, an opposition leader. “We will have a new President tomorrow.”

Dayananda Dissanayake, the independent Elections Commissioner, had already backed the General’s candidacy earlier in the day, responding to suggestions from the ruling party’s legislators that he could be disqualified. His announcement follows a violent two-month-long campaign, which left four people dead and hundreds wounded. Nearly 68,000 police were out to protect polling stations. But there were two bomb blasts in Vavuniya, the town near the huge camps for people displaced by the war, the BBC reported. Much of the outcome rests on how Sri Lanka’s 2.5 million Tamils voted. General Fonseka is backed by the Tamil National Alliance, the largest Tamil party, which says he has promised to address Tamil grievances, and is the only one who can oust Mr Rajapaksa. Many Tamils agree, especially those among the 300,000 who were detained in internment camps after the war’s end, The Times newspaper said. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children