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Sri Lanka candidates launch presidential campaigns

[AFP, Friday, 18 December 2009 16:27 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s main presidential candidates addressed public rallies on Friday at the start of official campaigning for what is expected to be a bitterly contested poll next month.

President Mahinda Rajapakse and his main rival, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, sought blessings at Buddhist temples before their rallies at historic pilgrim cities.

Rajapakse vowed a "new era of development" while launching his campaign from Anuradhapura, 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Colombo.

"It is not difficult for me to meet the challenges of development after defeating terrorism after coming to power four years ago," he said referring to the crushing of Tamil Tiger rebels in mid-May.

"I will win the development war and usher a new era of development," he said.

Fonseka addressed his first public rally in Kandy, 115 kilometres northeast of the capital, vowing to scrap the all-powerful executive presidency and revert the country to a Westminster system of government.

"I will abolish the executive presidential system and ensure we have a parliament that will be responsible to the people," said Fonseka, who is supported by the country’s two main opposition parties.

The retired four-star general quit the military in November, accusing the government of sidelining him and of falsely claiming he was trying to stage a coup.

Both men are seeking to claim credit from the crushing of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May, which ended 37 years of ethnic conflict.

They filed nomination papers to contest the January 26 poll on Thursday.

[Full Coverage]

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