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Rajapaksas eye comeback in tense Sri Lanka election

Gunmen attack convoy of buses transporting voters

By AFP - Nov 16,2019 - Last updated at Nov 16,2019

Voters queue up at a polling station to cast their ballots during the country's presidential election in Colombo on Saturday (AFP photo)

COLOMBO — Sri Lankans voted on Saturday for a new president in what could mark a comeback for the Rajapaksa clan.
Despite 85,000 police on duty in an island that emerged from civil war only a decade ago and in April suffered extremist bombings, gunmen attacked a convoy of 100 buses transporting voters in the northwest, police said. No casualties were reported.

In the Tamil-dominated northern peninsula of Jaffna, police reported to the Election Commission that the army was illegally manning roadblocks that could inhibit voters reaching polling booths.

Police also arrested 10 men there suspected of "trying to create trouble", a police official said.

At the 2015 election, there was a series of explosions in the region that activists said were aimed at reducing turnout.

This time there were long queues outside polling stations even before voting began.

Minority Tamils and Muslims are seen as crucial to deciding the winner in the close contest, in which almost 16 million eligible will choose from a record 35 candidates. Results could come as early as midday (06:30 GMT) on Sunday.

 

Big brother 

 

The electoral contest sees Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, running for the top job almost five years after his charismatic but controversial elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa lost power.

The grey-haired retired army lieutenant colonel is promising an infrastructure blitz and better security in the wake of the April attacks that killed 269 people.

"Gotabaya will protect our country," construction worker Wasantha Samarajjeew, 51, said as he cast his ballot in Colombo.

His main opponent is Sajith Premadasa, 52, from the governing liberal United National Party (UNP), son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa.

The Rajapaksas are adored by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority for defeating the Tigers and ending a 37-year civil war in 2009 in which around 100,000 people lost their lives.

For the same reason, the brothers are detested and feared by many in the Tamil minority, who make up 15 per cent of the population. The conflict ended with some 40,000 Tamil civilians allegedly killed by the army.

During Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidency from 2005-15, Gotabaya was defence secretary and effectively ran the security forces, even allegedly overseeing "death squads" that bumped off political rivals, journalists and others.

He denies the allegations.

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