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Sri Lanka president wins re-election

[Reuters, Wednesday, 27 January 2010 09:45 No Comment]

Sri Lankan state TV on Wednesday proclaimed President Mahinda Rajapaksa the winner of a historic post-war vote, as his chief rival hunkered down in a luxury hotel surrounded by troops he said he feared would arrest him.

Final results from Tuesday’s poll were not due until after 4 p.m., but an estimated two-thirds of all ballots already officially released showed Rajapaksa with 4.2 million votes to 2.8 million for former army commander General Sarath Fonseka.

The two allies who laid claim to the total defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) became rivals in a close-fought, bloody campaign that culminated in a relatively peaceful election on Tuesday with heavy turnout.

"The president has recorded a remarkable victory, with a more than 1.8 million vote majority," state-run Rupavahini said.

Rajapaksa said he wanted to seek a new mandate for his plans to develop Sri Lanka by exploiting its geographically strategic position astride air and sea lanes, rebuilding infrastructure and encouraging foreign investment and local productivity.

Moments before the state TV declaration, two people were killed and four wounded in a grenade attack on a Buddhist temple in the central town of Gampola, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

It was not immediately clear if the blast was poll-related, he said.

GENERAL SURROUNDED

Tension was high early on Wednesday as troops surrounded Fonseka in the Cinnamon Lakeside hotel in the capital Colombo, recently renovated to take advantage of increasing tourist arrivals on the Indian Ocean island since the war’s end.

"These people have surrounded the hotel with military and threatened my security people," Fonseka told Reuters by phone. "They had a plan to surround us and take us into custody and I don’t know if this is that phase of that particular operation."

Nanayakkara, the military spokesman, said there were no plans to arrest Fonseka, but rather to capture around 400 army deserters with him who could pose a potential coup risk.

"They have booked 100 rooms. They are highly trained military people. We are suspicious about their gathering. General Fonseka has released nine deserters to the military police," he said.

Fonseka quit the army in November and entered the race with the backing of a motley coalition of political parties united solely to beat Rajapaksa, after he said he was sidelined and suspected of plotting a coup.

The political neophyte delivered an election day shock when he admitted that he had not registered to vote, prompting the government to cry foul over an electoral commission ruling that he was still qualified to stand for election.

Independent observers put overall turnout at between 70 and 80 percent of the Indian Ocean island’s 14 million registered voters, although votes in predominantly Tamil areas registered much lower turnout. Fonseka was forecast to lead in those areas.

Rajapaksa called the poll two years early, hoping to capitalise on his post-war popularity to win a second six-year term to cement his legacy.

Fonseka as army commander ran a relentless counterinsurgency campaign to crush the Tigers, while Rajapaksa deflected an international push for a cease-fire and criticism over civilian deaths that prompted calls for a war crimes probe.

Rajapaksa will hold onto the reins of a $40 billion (24.8 billion pound) economy which has enjoyed a partial peace dividend, and is on the path to recovery with big Chinese and Indian investments into infrastructure and plans to put $4 billion into development.

[Full Coverage]

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