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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 14:22 GMT
Hardliner wins Sri Lanka election
Victorious poll winner, Mahinde Rajapakse
Mahinde Rajapakse says he will strengthen law and order
Sri Lankan premier Mahinda Rajapakse has won the presidential election by a narrow margin, officials have said.

Mr Rajapakse secured a little over 50% of the popular vote against main opposition rival Ranil Wickramasinghe.

Mr Rajapakse, who has taken a hard line with Tamil Tiger rebels, said after his victory he would "bring about an honourable peace".

Turnout was put at 75% in the south and west, but almost no Tamils voted in some minority Tamil areas.

Mr Wickramasinghe's opposition United National Party (UNP) demanded a fresh election in Tamil-dominated Jaffna, where the voter turnout was particularly low, but this has already been rejected by the electoral commission.

Mr Rajapakse will be sworn in on Saturday.

Subsidies and ceasefires

At the end of counting, Mr Rajapakse had secured more than 4.8m votes, about 180,000 ahead of Mr Wickramasinghe. There were eleven other candidates.

Voter reaction: Rajapakse 'will not bring war'

Mr Rajapakse, of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), said the result was a victory for the people.

"Democracy will be strengthened and law and order will be established in the country," he said.

"For me, power is not an ornament, but a means to serve the people."

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Colombo says it is clear that Mr Wickramasinghe lost because hardly any Tamils voted in the north and east of the island.

Mr Wickramasinghe had pledged to uphold the current ceasefire agreement, which he helped draw up.

I will bring about an honourable peace to the country, respecting all communities
Mahinda Rajapakse

He also had the support of most of the business community and the stock market fell seven percent on the news.

The losing candidate described the result as "a set back for the peace process".

"We've got a very polarised society now, into three groups," Mr Wickramasinghe said. "Those who voted for me for the peace process, those who voted for Mahinda Rajapakse and those who are unable to vote."

Mr Rajapakse is a populist whose heartland is the countryside in the Sinhala-Buddhist-dominated south.

He opposes privatisation and wants subsidies for farmers.

In pre-poll deals with Marxist and Buddhist parties he pledged a hard line in peace talks, including a renegotiation of the ceasefire agreement.

The Tamil Tigers warned Mr Rajapakse not to use his victory to adopt "military means to occupy our land or wage a conflict".

Political wing leader, SP Thamilselvan, told the BBC such actions would have "negative implications for the other side and we hope that they will understand the reality" .

The election campaign was one of the most peaceful in years, although at least four people are reported to have died when two grenades were thrown into a mosque on Friday.

Police said it was unclear if the attack was linked to the poll. Another 25 people were injured in the violence, in the town of Akkaraipattu in eastern Batticaloa district.

Roadblocks

Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said the poll turnout was about 75% but the boycott in Tami-dominated areas was almost total.

Polling booth in Colombo, Sri Lanka

In Jaffna, turnout was put at only 0.014% of more than 700,000 registered voters - the lowest ever anywhere in the country. In the 1999 election, 19% of voters in Jaffna cast ballots.

The Tamil Tigers had said they would not disrupt the vote. They said they had no interest in the election or its outcome.

Officials said there were roadblocks and intimidation in rebel-held areas.

More than 13m people were eligible to vote in Sri Lanka's fourth national poll in six years.

The poll ends the tenure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

She has dominated the island's politics since taking office for the first of her two terms in 1994.


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