Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Sri Lankan campaigning opens with temple visits

Sri Lanka's president and the former army general who is attempting to unseat him in January elections opened their campaigns on Monday with visits to separate Buddhist shrines.

President Mahinda Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka have been at loggerheads over claiming credit for the military's victory against the Tamil Tigers in May, which ended decades of ethnic bloodshed on the island.

Rajapakse received blessings at temples in the historic town of Anuradhapura, while Fonseka visited the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.

Fonseka confirmed weeks of speculation on Sunday by declaring he would run in the January 26 vote against his former commander-in-chief.

He said he was moving into politics because corruption was preventing Sri Lankans from benefiting from the success that military forces had secured under his command.

Fonseka quit the military after accusing the government of sidelining him and falsely suspecting him of trying to stage a coup.

The government called the election hoping to take advantage of its popularity following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had waged a long and bloody fight for an independent Tamil homeland.

Analysts say Fonseka's bid may split Rajapakse's Sinhalese nationalist voter base.


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