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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 April 2006, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Sri Lanka coalition sweeps polls
Mahinda Rajapakse
Rajapakse's coalition includes hard-line Sinhalese nationalists
Sri Lanka's ruling coalition has won an overwhelming victory in the country's local government elections.

Official results give President Mahinda Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) 225 of 266 seats.

Correspondents say results are an endorsement of the president's peace negotiations with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Observers say it will increase his sway over hard-line coalition allies who oppose the peace talks and, standing separately, fared badly in the polls.

Voting was postponed in most of the Tamil-dominated north and east of the country because of security concerns.

The election campaign was marred by sporadic violence.

Turnout was lower than usual at about 55%, election officials said. More than 10 million people were reportedly eligible to vote.

Litmus test

While President Rajapakse's governing alliance picked up the lion's share of the seats, the main opposition party won 33 seats and four other parties the remaining eight.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Colombo says the poll has been seen as a litmus test of the popularity of Mr Rajapakse's Sinhala nationalist allies, who could have a bearing on the fragile peace process.

UPFA - 225
UNP - 33
TNA - 5
JVP - 1
CDUA - 1
Independent - 1

The JVP, or People's Liberation Front, which contested the local elections separately although it is part of the national governing coalition, has consistently opposed making concessions to the Tamil Tiger rebels it says would jeopardise national security.

But while there was a slight increase in the JVP's share of the vote, it has not won the significant groundswell of support some had predicted, our correspondent says.

Analysts say that rather than giving the JVP leverage over the peace process, the results are likely instead to allow a buoyant Mr Rajapakse to rein in his hard-line allies.

Among those are also the JHU, a smaller party of Buddhist monks which echoes the JVP's opposition to making concessions to the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The JVP has called for Norway to be removed as mediator in the peace negotiations.

Destabilising acts

Tension has risen in Sri Lanka's north and east in recent months, with a series of attacks on military personnel and Tamils. More than 120 people have died.

Truce monitors warned recently against destabilising acts ahead of more peace talks scheduled in Geneva next month.

More than 60,000 people have died during two decades of conflict in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers want autonomy for minority Tamils in the north and east.

Mr Rajapakse has said the solution to the conflict lies in a unitary state.

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