Monday, January 25, 2010

Political reporter and cartoonist missing in Colombo on eve of election - RSF

Reporters Without Borders urges the security forces to assign more personnel to the search for journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who sent missing last night in Colombo. A senior police official told the press freedom organisation he was too busy with tomorrow’s presidential election to make the case a priority.

Eknaligoda, who writes political analyses for the Lankaenews website, left work at about 9 p.m. but did not arrive home and has not contacted any family members or friends. He had told a close friend he thought he had been followed for the past few days.

“Given the current political tension, it is extremely worrying that journalist known for criticising the government should disappear in the capital,” Reporters Without Borders said. “With rumours of premeditated violence against journalists circulating, we expect a rapid response from the authorities designed to find Eknaligoda safe and sound.”

Eknaligoda’s wife told Reporters Without Borders she reported his disappearance to police stations in the Homagama and Rajagirirya-Welikada districts of the capital, and police officers took her statement.

A fellow journalist told Reporters Without Borders that Eknaligoda had been threatened because of his political analyses: “Last week he wrote a long comparative analysis of the two main candidates for the presidential election that was published in Sinhalese on the Lankaenews site. He sided with the opposition. We fear that his disappearance is linked to that article.”

Eknaligoda, who works for the newspaper Sirata as well as Lankaenews and is also well-known as a cartoonist, was previously kidnapped for a few hours on 3 August.

Yesterday’s disappearance comes one day after the leading opposition candidate, General Sarath Fonseka, accused the government of planning violence in order to scare voters.

Other journalists have been kidnapped in recent years. Poddala Jayantha, the secretary-general of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, was kidnapped on a Colombo street in June of last year, tortured and then dumped on the side of a road. Radio Sooriyan news editor Nadarajah Kuruparan was kidnapped for 20 hours in Colombo in August 2006. Dharmeratnam “Taraki” Sivaram, editor of the Tamilnet news website and columnist for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror, was kidnapped and then murdered in April 2005.

© Reporters sans frontières

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Monday, January 25, 2010


Prageeth Ekneligoda and independent media personnel and a political analyst has disappeared from Sunday night (24)

Ekneligoda is an independent media personnel and a political analyst. He lives at Homagama. People of the area have seen a white Van sans number plate stationed around his house yesterday. It is reported that he has disappeared after leaving the office at Lanka e news for home at about 9.00 p.m. From yesterday night around 9.30 p.m. his phone is not functioning. It is learnt that when he received a call on his phone at about 9.30 .p.m. from a friend of his, he had answered ‘I am not going towards Koswatte’

During the last several days, he had been engaged in the election campaign of Gen. Fonseka. Ekneligoda was a provider of news based on political affairs to Lanka e news.

On an earlier occasion too there was an attempted abduction on Ekneligoda.

His wife has made a complaint to the Police this morning, (25) about his disappearance.

© Lankaenews

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Monday, January 25, 2010

War President versus war general in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s contemporary heroes clash tomorrow in violence-marred polls that pit the victorious war President against his popular former army commander.

Should the challenger prevail, the island nation could be staring at a period of uncertainty, analysts said.

President Mahinda Rajapakse called the presidential poll two years ahead of schedule, seeking to cash in on an immense popularity surge gained from ending a quarter-century-long civil war. While he fashioned the victory with determined diplomacy and political support, the instrument of victory was General Sarath Fonseka a brilliant and ruthless soldier, who now stands opposed to him.

Rajapakse and Fonseka fell out shortly after the war ended last May with the battlefield deaths of Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and all his top lieutenants.

Weeks after sharing space with the President on victory posters that went up all over the Sinhala-majority southern part of the island, Fonseka found himself stripped of army command, and elevated to the largely toothless post of Chief of Combined Defence Staff.

He made his resentment plain and quit the army in November to mount a presidential challenge backed by the combined opposition, which includes the Marxist-Sinhala JVP, or People’s Liberation Front, as well as the free-market United National Party. In a bizarre turn of events, the Tamil National Alliance, a group that was often seen as pro-Tamil Tigers, has backed the retired general.

Officially, there are 22 candidates in the fray, but most are expected to lose their election deposits.

“Rajapakse has the edge, being in administration,” said Professor S.D. Muni of the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore, a leading expert on the subcontinent.

“If he is re-elected, it means consolidation of power. If he loses, the presidential system may have to go since Fonseka is committed to change that.”

Although Fonseka was excoriated by hardline Sinhala elements for alleging that troops were instructed to overlook the Tigers’ white-flag surrender and wipe out the rebel leadership, he has seen an unexpected surge of popularity in recent weeks.

“The people are leery about the prospects of another six to eight years of the Rajapakses,” said a senior Asian diplomat in Colombo.

“The family is everywhere and between them, the Rajapakse siblings control portfolios that account for two-thirds of the economy. There is also the fear that after the President’s second term, his brother Gothabhaya may be poised to continue the regime.”

Rajapakse holds the defence and finance portfolios. His brother Gothabhaya is Defence Minister and another brother, Basil, is Senior Adviser to the President. The President’s older brother, Chamal Rajapakse, is Minister in charge of Ports and Aviation. Several other relatives hold key positions in the government.

All this has fed tales of high-level corruption, which Fonseka has used to advantage in his campaign speeches.

Besides, the Rajapakses are from the far south in a country where most rulers have come from the provinces surrounding Colombo.

Yesterday, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga pledged support for Fonseka.

In the event the Sinhala vote is divided, the Tamils, who form some 14 per cent of the island’s 21 million people, may hold the power balance. Should they give Fonseka their vote, Sri Lanka may see a new president this week.

Tamil groups feel that this strategy could help their cause and increase their say in Colombo, even though Fonseka has spoken of raising the Sri Lankan military’s strength after the war and once reportedly said that the island is a Sinhala nation where Tamils “are also allowed to live”.

Campaigning ended last Saturday night to permit a cooling-off period. At least five people have died in the weeks running up to the poll and dozens more have been injured in poll-related violence. Last week, a key Fonseka supporter had his house fire-bombed.

“The violence will reduce voter attendance, then the rigging will take place,” Fonseka has alleged.

Some 70,000 police are being deployed around voting booths, the government said. — The Straits Times

© The Malaysian Insider

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Sri Lanka Vote Hinges on Tamils

By Matthew Rosenberg - This country's presidential vote Tuesday pits two chief architects of the country's defeat last year of Tamil separatists, underscoring the political divide that remains after 26 years of ethnic strife.

The leading contenders among the field's 22 candidates are President Mahinda Rajapaksa, elected five years ago on a promise to crush the Tigers, and retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who oversaw the rebels' battlefield annihilation in May. Most Sri Lankans view them as war heroes. They are seen as war criminals by the country's minority Tamils, who could end up deciding the outcome of a vote observers say is too close to call.

The war pitted the government, dominated by Sri Lanka's predominately Buddhist Sinhalese majority, against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who fought for a homeland for the largely Hindu ethnic group.

Neither front-runner has a plan to address lingering Tamil grievances, including the 100,000 Tamil civilians believed to be in internment camps. The ugly and at times violent election campaign, meanwhile, has exposed just how badly the war stunted this island nation's democratic institutions.

Mr. Fonseka says he wants to restore the country's battered international reputation. His choice of moderate political allies has raised hope among diplomats and human-rights activists that he could curtail what they see as the Rajapaksa administration's often humiliating treatment of Tamils, the arbitrary detention of perceived enemies, and the alleged assassination of government critics.

The government denies any role in the killings and says it has treated Tamils fairly.

Mr. Rajapaska remains popular among Sinhalese Sri Lankans largely for his role in ending what had become one of the globe's longest-running civil wars. The Tigers were known for their use of suicide-bomb vests, and their demise has brought Sri Lanka closer to the prosperous island paradise the government long sought to portray in tourist brochures. The streets of Colombo, the capital, are no longer dotted by soldiers and checkpoints.

Sri Lanka's economy is also rebounding. The government estimates the economy will grow about 6% this year. The International Monetary Fund, in a show of confidence, on Thursday upgraded Sri Lanka's status to what it calls a middle-income emerging market, which means it has had a relative high per capita annual income—now around $4,400—for at least three years and that it can reliably borrow on international financial markets.

But Mr. Fonseka's hero status is equal to the president's. He has seized on allegations of corruption and on Mr. Rajapaksa's reliance on family members—a number of whom, including his two brothers, serve in key government positions—to cut into the president's support.

The result is a split Sinhalese vote, and the prospect that the race will be decided by Tamils, who make up about 18% of Sri Lanka's 21 million people. Mr. Rajapaksa was first elected in 2005, largely because Tamils heeded a Tiger call to boycott the vote.

The Tigers weren't universally supported by Tamils, but in their absence there are few advocates for the community's demands for equality and autonomy in Tamil-majority areas of the north and east.

Most Tamils hold Messrs. Rajapaksa and Fonseka accountable for war abuses. Thousands of Tamil civilians—the numbers remain unclear—were killed in the war's final weeks after the army trapped them and the last Tigers on a patch of land along Sri Lanka's northeastern coast. Roughly 100,000 people, most of them Tamil, died in the war.

Many Tamils appear to be lining up behind Mr. Fonseka.

"Under the current regime, all the doors are locked to us," said Mano Ganesan, who heads the Democratic People's Front, a small Tamil party. Larger Tamil parties, like the Tamil National Alliance, have also lined up behind Mr. Fonseka.

"The president has destroyed us. We have no hope if he is re-elected," said Krishan Ganeshananthan, a 42-year-old Tamil construction worker in Colombo. Attending a Fonseka rally in a heavily Tamil suburb, Mr. Ganeshananthan said he wasn't sure whether he would vote. "I don't think these people like us," he said of the two candidates.

With questions remaining over whether Tamils will turn out n large numbers, observers say the race is too close to call. There has been little independent polling. Both camps say their own polling, which they haven't released, show their man ahead but within the margin of error.

With the race tight, the campaign has turned increasingly violent. Each side accuses the other of intimidating voters, and at least four people have been killed.

On Friday, a bomb destroyed the car and damaged the home of a wealthy Colombo businessman tied to Mr. Fonseka, police said. The government condemned the blast, while the opposition alleged Mr. Rajapaksa's supporters were behind it. Police said they were investigating.

There have been other troubling signs. Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake this week expressed frustration that the police and public officials were not following orders to take down unlawfully posted campaign posters, most of them the president's.

Even government officials acknowledge that state-owned media, accustomed to toeing the government line during three decades of war, is blatantly pro-Rajapaksa.

"They have made a decision to support the president," said Mr. Rajapaksa's spokesman, Lucien Rajakarunanayake, of the two state owned television stations.
—Thavayoganathan Sajitharan contributed to this article.

© The Wall Street Journal

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Monday, January 25, 2010

General Puts Up a Fight in Sri Lanka’s Election

By Lydia Polgreen - When President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced late last year that he would move the presidential election up by two years and seek a fresh mandate from Sri Lanka’s war-weary electorate, he seemed like a shoo-in.

Having vanquished the fearsome Tamil Tiger insurgency in May with a no-holds-barred assault on its last stronghold, Mr. Rajapaksa enjoyed widespread adulation. The opposition parties were fractured and in disarray. No one, it seemed, could match the president’s popularity, despite deep unease about what seemed to be the increasing concentration of power in the hands of his family and rising corruption.

But to near-universal surprise, an alphabet soup of political parties has rallied around the retired general who led Sri Lanka’s army to victory against the Tamil Tigers, Sarath Fonseka.

On Tuesday, voters here will go to the polls in what has been one of the most bitterly contested elections in Sri Lankan history. The winner will preside over the reconstruction and reconciliation of a country torn apart by more than a quarter-century of ethnic conflict.

Mr. Rajapaksa has argued that he delivered on his election promise, made in 2005, to end the war, and that he can be relied upon to mend the country. But his popularity has waned in the months since the end of the war as Sri Lankans have grown impatient for prosperity. Mr. Rajapaksa has also given powerful positions in the government to relatives, rankling many Sri Lankans.

“Sri Lanka has always been a democracy,” said Waskadwa Dhammarana, a Buddhist monk who supported the president in 2005 but is now planning to vote for General Fonseka. “I am against corruption, nepotism and the antidemocratic attitude prevalent in the Rajapaksa regime.”

General Fonseka has pledged to reduce the powers of the presidency and give more authority to Parliament, a cherished goal of many parties in the fractious coalition backing him. But he is untested as a political leader, and many question his ability to lead beyond the regimented sphere of the military.

Indeed, the alliance behind General Fonseka’s candidacy is a grudging coalition that includes more than one set of archenemies. It includes hard-line Marxists and laissez-faire capitalists, hard-core nationalists who argue that minorities should submit to majority rule as well as the main Tamil and Muslim parties.

“The opposition parties have come together with the single purpose of effecting regime change,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a research and advocacy institute here. “Fonseka is the instrument of that change.”

The campaign has unfolded in a tense but hopeful nation that seeks to put its violent past to rest. The Tamil Tigers took up arms to defend the Tamil minority from government discrimination, but eventually became a ruthless insurgency best known for its use of child soldiers and suicide bombers.

Violence has punctuated the campaign. Election monitors have counted more than 100 episodes of violence involving firearms. At least five people have been killed.

General Fonseka has struggled to find his footing as a politician. In speeches his clipped delivery is that of a man accustomed to giving orders, not asking for votes.

“The country in the future will be free of corruption,” he commanded from the stage at a rally in the southern coastal town of Kalutara. “Democracy will be restored. Your children will have a bright future.”

For many of the general’s supporters, the concern is more a matter of ousting Mr. Rajapaksa.

“He has constructed a power center that is controlled only by his family,” said Japudaya Nagoda Kanutara, a 47-year-old supermarket clerk who voted for Mr. Rajapaksa in 2005. “At that time we only wanted to end the war, but after that sacrifice we feel we are getting nothing. Sri Lanka needs a change.”

Mr. Rajapaksa, a flesh-pressing politician whose flashy rallies draw huge crowds, has found himself on the defensive, and his campaign has pulled out all the stops. His grinning face beams down from billboards and posters all across the country. The government has even added his portrait to a new 1,000-rupee note.

Critics have accused him of using state resources, like helicopters to hop around the teardrop-shaped island, to wage his campaign, though his spokesman denied this. State-controlled media have heavily favored him.

Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group, said in a report that the two main state-owned television channels devoted 98.5 percent of their news coverage to Mr. Rajapaksa.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s rallies have been packed with fervent supporters who venerate him as a bringer of peace.

“He ended the war,” said A. D. R. Premarathna, who owns a small printing shop. “Now we can live without fear.”

Mr. Premarathna waited for five hours in the baking sun with his wife and children to secure a spot in the front row of Mr. Rajapaksa’s rally in Kalutara. “I know he will deliver on his promise to bring prosperity for my children,” he said.

One issued that has hardly figured in the election campaign is the question of human rights violations that may have been committed by the military in the fight against the Tigers. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped on a small stretch of beach where they were held hostage as human shields by the ragged remains of the insurgency’s leadership.

The United Nations counted 7,000 dead in the first phase of the final battle, but no reliable count exists for the last, deadliest weeks of the fighting. Sri Lanka has resisted calls for an international war crimes investigation. After the war, about 300,000 Tamils who had been trapped with the Tigers were detained in squalid, closed camps.

No matter who wins, the competitiveness of the election has already had a profound effect on Sri Lanka, said Rukshana Nanayakkara, deputy executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, an anticorruption advocacy organization. The emergence of a credible opposition candidate pushed the government to speed the release of displaced Tamils held in camps, and ease restrictions on journalists, he said.

“This was an opportunity through the campaign to challenge the government,” he said. “Regardless of who wins, that has been a very good thing.”

© The New York Times

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Sri Lankan presidential election sparks fears of rising violence

Mark Tranand Dinuk Samarasinghe - Sri Lanka will on Tuesday hold its first presidential elections since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, amid allegations that the ruling party is planning to stir up violence in a desperate attempt to cling on to power.

The increasingly bitter election campaign came to an end this weekend with final rallies for the two main candidates, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka, the former head of the army.

The two men are widely seen as the chief architects of last year's victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But since putting an end to one of the world's longest running insurgencies they have turned on each other in an escalating round of accusations and insults.

On Saturday Fonseka warned of vote-rigging and suggested that the army might stage a coup if Rajapaksa loses. "The violence will reduce voter attendance, then the rigging will take place," he said.

A government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, denied the opposition's allegation. "They know that there is an imminent defeat and this is their usual excuse to cover up a humiliating defeat," he told the Associated Press.

The run-up to the vote has already been marred by violence. Police say at least four people have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes between the factions and on Friday the house of an influential opposition figure was bombed.

Fonseka, who decided to challenge Rajapaksa after complaining of being sidelined, has dismissed the president as a "cardboard king". Rajapaksa's supporters, meanwhile, have portrayed Fonseka as a dictator in the making, comparing him to Idi Amin, the brutal Ugandan military leader. Amid the name-calling, there lurks the real fear that violence will escalate if the result is disputed.

With the Sinhalese vote expected to be split, both men have courted the Tamil minority, who make up 12% of the population – and who bore the brunt of the bloody campaign to defeat the Tigers. Sri Lanka's main Tamil party has thrown its weight behind the former general despite his ruthless conduct of the campaign against the Tigers.

The Tamil National Alliance, formerly the LTTE, considers Rajapaksa, who is seeking a second six-year term, the greater evil. The TNA has said it could not back Rajapaksa because of the government's human rights abuses and its inability to achieve reconciliation between the ­Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities following the end of the 25-year civil war.

"We have no faith in either of the candidates. However a majority of TNA MPs believe that they want a change, so that's why we decided in favour of Fonseka," one TNA MP said.

Manikkawasagar (not his real name), a Tamil voter from Jaffna, was once an open supporter of the rebels, but he now plans to vote for Fonseka, "because all this time the president has failed to listen to us".

Prominent Sri Lankan blogger Jude Fernando called on Tamils to back the former army chief. "Whether or not Fonseka can win, if we work to increase the number of votes he receives, we can hope for a stronger opposition in the future, and we can successfully expand the space for democracy," he said. "We can make it more likely that one day we will be able to hold the ruling party accountable, and we can exert pressure to make the next general election much more just and fair."

But a Tamil truck driver from Jaffna, who also asked not to be named, said he would vote for the president. "When the war was going on, we suffered enormously at the hands of both pro-LTTE and pro-government groups. But all that ended with the elimination of the LTTE. Although many young people want a change, we who have seen much in life strongly believe that credit goes to the president," he said.

Rajapaksa and Fonseka have been accused of human rights violations, and a US state department report in October said the military took actions that could be described as war crimes. The UN says 7,000 Tamil civilians may have died in the final months of the fighting, though the government denies this.

In one key difference between the two men, Fonseka, who survived a Tamil Tiger suicide bomb attack in 2006, has said he is willing to face scrutiny for his role in the war, but Rajapaksa is adamant that none of his men be tried. Fonseka has also promised to rein in the almost unchecked powers that the president enjoys and free thousands of young Tamil men suspected of rebel links.

Rajapaksa, for his part, has eased some of the travel restrictions in the Tamil-dominated north after opening up sealed camps where more than 270,000 Tamils were interned for months. More than 100,000 still remain in those camps.

Government officials say the authorities have stepped up security to ensure the vote goes ahead smoothly.

© Guardian

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