Rajapaksa in Jaffna ahead of local elections

Rajapaksa, who was inspecting the government`s development drive activities in Jaffna, was accorded a tumultuous welcome presidential officials said.

Last Updated: Jul 18, 2011, 23:54 PM IST

Colombo: President Mahinda Rajapaksa
on Monday began a three-day visit to Sri Lanka`s northern town of
Jaffna, ahead of the crucial local election in the region
which was once the heartland of a three-decade bloody ethnic
conflict in the country.

Rajapaksa, who was inspecting the government`s
development drive activities in Jaffna, was accorded a
tumultuous welcome presidential officials said.

He became the first president ever to arrive in the
island of Kaytes.

His visit comes ahead of Saturday`s local council
election where the opposition parties have accused the
government of interference in holding a free and fair election
process.

The main Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA)
and the Marxist JVP have complained of large-scale harassment
of their candidates by the ruling party and their allies.

The TNA even called for the placement of international
observers.

The military and the police, however, dismisssed
opposition complaints as exaggerations.

Only 17 complaints of alleged election law violations
have taken place in Jaffna, police said.

As many as 22 local councils in Jaffna and Kilinochchi
districts go to polls on July 23.

They are part of the total number of 65 councils going
to polls and the second stage of the staggered local election
after the first round that took place on March 17.

Responding to criticism that a high military presence
in Jaffna had interfered with the free nature of the poll, the
military spokesman Major General Ubhaya Madawela said that no
army would be deployed on the election day.

Only the police would be deployed to provide security
at polling stations, the commissioner of elections, Mahinda
Deshapriya said.

The TNA in a letter to Deshapriya had asked him to
create conditions for a free and fair poll while cataloguing
all incidents of harassment faced by their candidates.

The LTTE waged a civil war for a separate state for
the Tamils of Sri Lanka, alleging discrimination against the
minority community at the hands of the majority Sinhalas.

The Lankan military crushed the rebels in May 2009 and
ended the ethnic conflict that killed between 80,000 and
100,000 people.

The government has held several round of talks with
the TNA in a bid to find a settlement to the political
grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

PTI