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Rajapaksa suffers setback; Kumaratunga supports Fonseka

January 24, 2010 18:19 IST

The stage is now set for what is expected to be the most closely contested Presidential polls in Sri Lanka, with the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa and his main challenger Sarath Fonseka exuding full confidence of emerging victorious.

Hours after the campaigning ended for the crucial January 26 polls in the post-LTTE era, Rajapaksa suffered a defection today when the matriarch of his coalition and ex-president Chandrika Kumaratunga supported former army chief Gen Fonseka during a meeting at Horagolla, media reports said.

"The prevailing violence and the breakdown in law and order poses a serious challenge to democracy, democratic institutions and values, as well as all the basic freedoms we cherish and have protected with great sacrifice over the centuries," 64-year-old Kumaratunga said in a statement.

"I know of no better system of government than that founded and formed on democracy and freedom," she said.

Meanwhile, law-enforcement agencies today deployed over 68,000 policemen and warned against public gatherings near polling centres.

Under the Presidential Election Act, 1981, any person indulging in rally or meeting would be dealt with immediate affect, senior DIG of the police elections unit Gamini Navaratna said. The police will be supplemented by additional support from member of the armed forces.

There are over 14 million voters in Sri Lanka.

All police teams have been given strict orders to arrest people gather within a 500-m radius of any polling centre and also to apprehend any person found to be intimidating voters.

Navarna also said there are no immediate plans to have a police curfew during the elections as, according to him, they do not expect any serious mass scale incidents to break out, a local media reports said.

Special additional security arrangements have been put in place in the north and eastern provinces, Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya told reporters.

The campaigning for crucial elections ended midnight yesterday. Putting behind the fears of the vanquished LTTE, the public participated in a big way in the election campaigns with songs, dance and processions in well decorated vehicles during the last days of campaigning.

Both the candidates in the first major election in the post-Tigers era, have asserted that the aspirations of the minority Tamil and Muslims will be foremost in their mind while taking policy decisions in case they win the polls.

During a public meeting, 64-year-old Rajapaksa said that people living in the North and the East need a safe and secure place to live freely without intimidation.

"Right now they need a roof and expect a better livelihood. They need new roads, electricity, employment, better education and advanced health facilities," he said.

Campaign managers of Rajapaksa claimed that the President's last rally at Piliyandala, about 20 km from Colombo, was a huge success despite it being considered a stronghold of Fonseka.

On his part, 59-year-old Fonseka ended the campaign with a gathering dominated by Muslims at Maradana in the heart of Colombo. Charging the government with attempting to rig the mandate, the retired General told his attentive supporters that he would certainly be occupying the most powerful office.

Fonseka during an election meeting earlier this week promised more army top brass and senior police posts for the deserved people and the meritorious in case he came to power.  The former army chief, who led Sri Lanka army to a decisive victory over LTTE in 2009, had made corruption as the main plank of campaigning by alleging that Rajapaksa family had amassed huge assets.

The president had denied the charges and said the development programmes launched by the ruling coalition United People's Freedom Alliance have been largely implemented.

Since November 23, a total of 889 incidents of election related violence have been reported to the police and 351 people have been arrested in connection with these acts.

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