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Sarath Fonseka asks court to overturn election result

[Times Online UK, Wednesday, 17 February 2010 14:49 No Comment]

General Sarath Fonseka, the defeated Sri Lankan presidential candidate who was arrested last week, filed a petition in the Supreme Court yesterday accusing the Government of rigging last month’s election.

The former army chief, who led the victorious campaign against the Tamil Tigers but is now facing charges of planning a military coup, urged the court to overturn the results of the January 26 election.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent, won the first presidential poll since the Tigers’ defeat with more than 57 per cent of the vote, ahead of General Fonseka on just over 40 per cent.

But the general, who resigned from the Army in November after falling out with the President, refused to accept the result and vowed to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

He was arrested by military police at his campaign on office on February 8 and has been held ever since at the naval headquarters in Colombo, the capital, pending trial in a military court.

“We have filed the election petition on behalf of General Fonseka today,” Ashoka Samararathne, an attorney representing the general, said.

“We are asking the election to be declared void or Sarath Fonseka to be declared elected because our position is that he won the election.”

On Friday, the Supreme Court also admitted a petition from General Fonseka’s wife, Anoma, arguing that his detention was illegal. The court gave the Government four weeks to respond to that petition.

The Government denies opposition allegations that it rigged the election and then arrested the general to punish him for challenging the President and prevent him from doing so again in parliamentary elections on April 8.

It says he is facing a court martial on various charges, including conspiring with the opposition to stage a coup against President Rakapaksa while still serving in the Army last year.

But Mr Rajapaksa is now facing mounting criticism – internationally and domestically – over the arrest of the country’s only four-star general, and its implications for South Asia’s oldest democracy.

The United Nations, the European Union and the United States have all expressed concern, and human rights groups have accused the Government of stifling the political opposition and the independent media.

Thousands of opposition supporters have staged protests in Colombo over the past few days, some of which have been broken up violently by police and government supporters.

Most significantly, the general has also been backed by Sri Lanka’s Buddhist clergy – a hugely influential force in the country of 20 million people, which is about 70 per cent Buddhist.

In a joint letter to the President on Sunday, the heads of four top Buddhist chapters condemned General Fonseka’s arrest and urged the President to ensure he was cleared of all charges.

“We wish to stress that we do not under any circumstance approve of the arrest of former army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who risked his life for the country’s unity,” the monks wrote.

An independent lawyers’ group also criticised the Government on Monday for illegally suppressing opposition protests against the general’s arrest.

“We were shocked to witness that protesters were first attacked by hooligans and thugs who were provided protection by the police.

"Subsequently the same peaceful protesters were beaten by the police,” Lawyers for Democracy said in a statement.

A Sri Lankan court dealt another blow to the Government yesterday when it released a newspaper editor whom police had detained for 18 days under the country’s anti-terrorism legislation.

[Full Coverage]

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