Page last updated at 20:36 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Fonseka rejects Sri Lanka election win for Rajapaksa

Soldiers outside the Cinnamon Lake Hotel, Colombo, 27 jan
Soldiers surrounded the hotel where Gen Sarath Fonseka had stayed

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been declared the winner of Sri Lanka's presidential poll but the outcome was immediately rejected by his challenger.

Gen Sarath Fonseka promised a legal challenge to the outcome of the ballot, the first since Tamil Tiger rebels were defeated after 25 years of civil war.

The Elections Commission declared Mr Rajapaksa the victor with 57.8% of votes cast, to 40% for his main rival.

Gen Fonseka later left a hotel where he had complained of being intimidated.

He left in a vehicle with security on Wednesday, and prevented troops who had been stationed around the luxury hotel from searching him and his vehicle.

Charles Haviland
Charles Haviland, BBC News, Colombo
The surprise challenger in this race, Gen Sarath Fonseka, alleges that there are sufficient grounds to ask the elections commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, to annul the outcome of this historic post-war poll.

His reasons include the inability of many internally displaced Sri Lankan Tamils to cast their vote because of inadequate transport between camps and villages; and also the alleged misuse of state resources by the president's side, including the use of public funds for Mahinda Rajapaksa's campaign.

Independent monitoring groups back up many of his complaints. Mr Dissanayake does, too, to some extent.

But it may be difficult for the general to present a strong case for annulment. The margin of victory is much larger than many predicted, with Mr Rajapaksa getting more than six million votes, compared with something over four million for Gen Fonseka.

Also, despite many election day irregularities, there were not complaints of very wide-scale chaos or vote rigging.

Once he had left the area, the troops immediately took down roadblocks and dispersed.

It was believed his security would be removed when he got to his house, but a military spokesman said 40-50 troops would be retained for him.

A government spokesman had said the troops were at the hotel to look for army deserters, with a military spokesman adding that the troops' deployment was a "protective measure".

The BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan, who had been in the same hotel as Gen Fonseka and other opposition leaders, says the troops' presence had created a very tense atmosphere.

An opposition spokesman, Rauf Hakeem, said opposition members had appealed to the government over what he said were "high-handed tactics" intended to intimidate them.

He told reporters there were no deserters inside the hotel.

Gen Fonseka has alleged vote-rigging and has lodged several objections with Sri Lanka's electoral commission by letter. He has also accused the government of wanting to kill him and said it had removed his personal security from the hotel, leaving him vulnerable.

Rajapaksa supporters celebrate in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 27 Jan

Speaking the BBC's Sinhala service, Gen Fonseka later confirmed that he had reached his home.

"We went to the hotel because there was a threat to my life," he said.

"There is nothing we can do about it. There is no law and order in this country. They are planning to assassinate me."

He did not give any details about any alleged plot to kill him. He added that he was planning to leave the country, but would not say where he was going.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the president-elect, has previously expressed concern about Gen Fonseka's allegations that at the end of the war he ordered surrendering Tamil Tiger rebels to be shot. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has denied the claims.

Since he left the army the higher ranks have very much rallied behind Mr Rajapaksa, the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says. Gen Fonseka also does not have his own party base, having stood for election backed by a disparate group of opposition parties.

Independent election observers have been perturbed by two main elements, our correspondent says, one of which is the amount of violence in the run-up to the election - with most complaints about the perpetration of violence laid at the door of the president's side.

Mahinda Samarasinghe said Sarath Fonseka was free to leave at any time

The other is what monitors say is the misuse of public resources and state media, particularly state-run TV, which provided blanket coverage of the incumbent president's campaign.

Some 70% of Sri Lanka's 14 million-strong electorate turned out to vote. However, turn-out in the Tamil areas in the north-east, where the fiercest fighting occurred during the conflict, was less than 30%.

Lucien Rajakarunanayake, a spokesman for Mr Rajapaksa, told the Associated Press news agency that the president had "won a historic and resounding victory in the first free and fair elections held throughout the country since the defeat of terrorism".

Supporters of Mr Rajapaksa celebrated in the streets of Colombo, waving Sri Lankan flags and setting off fireworks.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated Mr Rajapaksa, saying he was confident "Sri Lanka will find lasting peace, where all communities can live with dignity and in harmony."

Tamil voter at a polling station in Vavuniya

Millions of Tamils live in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Bitter fight

After a violent and acrimonious campaign, during which four people died and hundreds were wounded, Tuesday's election was largely peaceful.

But there were serious exceptions, especially in the Tamil-populated north.

In the city of Jaffna, the private Centre for Monitoring Election Violence said there were at least six explosions before and just after voting began.

Later there were two blasts in Vavuniya, the town near the huge camps for people displaced by the war. The organisation said it feared this was a systematic attempt to scare people away from voting.

There were also grenade attacks in the Sinhala-dominated centre and south.

It later turned out that Gen Fonseka had not been able to vote because his name was not on the register.

The two men were closely associated with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers last May but fell out soon afterwards. Gen Fonseka quit the military, complaining that he had been sidelined after the war.

The president's side accused the general of courting separatists.

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