Sri Lanka holds crucial polls in east amid tight security

May 10th, 2008 - 1:21 pm ICT by admin  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, May 10 (IANS) Amid tight security, thousands in Sri Lanka’s east queued up to vote Saturday to elect a maiden provincial council in the region the military seized from the Tamil Tigers a year ago. About 20,000 security personnel and 15,000 poll officials were deployed to conduct free and fair elections in 1,070 polling centers in Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai districts.

Barely hours before the polls, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sank Saturday a naval logistic supply vessel berthed in the heavily-guarded Trincomalee harbour in a pre-dawn underwater operation.

On Friday evening, at least 11 civilians were killed and 29 wounded in a bomb blast - blamed on Tamil rebels - in Amparai district.

The authorities say the pre-poll violence has not hindered the polling process.

Nearly one million registered voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to pick 37 members from among 1,342 candidates from 18 political parties and 73 independent groups.

“The polling began at 7 a.m. as scheduled and it is violence free so far,” chief returning officer for Batticaloa, Sundaram Arumainayagam, told IANS over telephone.

“The polling started on a dull note. But as the day progressed, people started turning up in large numbers,” he said.

Reports from Trincomalee and Amparai districts also said that the polling was incident free.

Despite the number of political parties in the fray, the main battle is a virtual two-horse race between the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) headed by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The UPFA has an electoral alliance with the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), which broke away from the LTTE and is led by former LTTE eastern commander ‘Colonel’ Karuna.

The UPFA-TMVP coalition faces a tough challenge from the powerful alliance of the UNP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), a key political party that represents the Muslim minority.

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