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Sri Lanka opposition accuses President Rajapaksa of plotting coup

[Times Online UK, Monday, 25 January 2010 09:50 No Comment]

SRI LANKA-POLITICS-VOTE Sri Lanka’s opposition accused President Rajapaksa yesterday of planning to stage a coup if he did not win tomorrow’s fiercely contested election.

Opposition leaders backing Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief who is the main challenger to Mr Rajapaksa, cited troop movements and plans to block the results and gag the independent media.

“In the face of inevitable defeat the Rajapaksa regime seems to be conspiring to thwart the democratic process,” Mangala Samaraweera, a former Foreign Minister who supports General Fonseka, said.

The general, who led the military campaign that defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in May, said that the Government had moved 15 armoured personnel carriers to Colombo, the capital, and recalled senior army officers considered disloyal.

The President’s office denied the allegations and said it was confident that Mr Rajapaksa, who dismissed General Fonseka as army chief last year, would easily win the first election since the defeat of the Tigers.

Diplomats and political analysts said that the leading candidates, who have split the vote of the Sinhalese majority, appeared to be neck and neck when the campaigning ended on Saturday. They also warned that the two men’s rivalry, which observers say has caused at least four deaths, could spiral out of control — especially if the election result is disputed.

Mr Rajapaksa, 65, announced on Saturday that he had ordered the police to take “stern action” against anyone disrupting peace and democracy in Sri Lanka. “I will not hesitate to call for the armed forces if the police and the STF [Special Task Force] fail to ensure peace and democracy in society,” he said.

Mr Rajapaksa, who called the election early to capitalise on the Tigers’ defeat, suffered one of his biggest setbacks yet yesterday when his predecessor, who is also the matriarch of the ruling party, declared her support for General Fonseka.

Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was President until 2005, is an influential political figure in Sri Lanka. Her father, a former Prime Minister, founded the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that Mr Rajapaksa heads.

“I took the decision to end four years of silence, as I am concerned about the violence, intimidation and corruption,” she said after meeting General Fonseka. “Our party has deteriorated in recent years and I see an opportunity to revive it through a change of the culture of violence, intimidation, corruption and nepotism.”

The leaders of the opposition alliance backing General Fonseka said that they had appealed to police and security forces not to carry out any illegal orders.

“We have to be ready now to protect our franchise,” said Ranil Wickremesinghe, a former Prime Minister who leads the opposition United National Party. “We are making counter plans. We will get on to the streets if necessary.”

General Fonseka, 59, has accused the Government of politicising the 275,000-strong army by installing loyalists as senior commanders and forcing some to speak out against him. He said that he had the support of the lower ranks. “We are 100 per cent certain that the military and police will not carry out the orders [to seize power],” he said.

[Full Coverage]

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