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Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Sunday, 11 May 2008 11:06 UK

Sri Lankan government wins vote

Sri Lankan polling officers prepare final result documents at a counting centre in the eastern Sri Lankan province of Trincomalee on 11 May, 2008
The opposition claimed the poll was marred by fraud and voter-intimidation

Sri Lanka's ruling coalition has won a provincial election in the east of the island, seen as key to its strategy to win a war against the Tamil Tigers.

But opposition leaders and rights groups said the poll was marred by fraud and voter intimidation.

The vote was held in a region which was under Tamil Tiger rebel control until it was seized by the army last year.

The government says the result is a blow to the Tamils' demand for an independent state.

In voting for the 37-member council:

  • The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of President Mahinda Rajapaksa took 20 seats;
  • The opposition United National Party (UNP) and its allies won 15 seats;
  • Two smaller parties won one seat each.

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"The government victory at the eastern polls has shattered the wild dreams" of Tamil separatists, said Sri Lanka's environment minister Patali Champika Ranawaka.

This is a totally distorted mandate that they got. This is obtained by fraud
Rauff Hakeem, opposition leader

But Rauff Hakeem, leader of the UNP-allied Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said opposition leaders were due to meet in Colombo to decide whether to legally challenge what they view as a fraudulent election.

"This is a totally distorted mandate that they got," he said. "This is obtained by fraud."

The government said allegations of fraud were an attempt to cover the opposition's defeat.

The winning alliance included a party that had defected from the Tigers in 2004.

They stood for office despite accusations levelled against them of killings, extortion, and abducting children for military training.

The election was seen as a critical test of the government's support as it continues a military campaign to try to crush the Tamil Tigers in their remaining stronghold in the north, says the BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo.

It will lay the foundation for limited devolution that the government says is the answer to Tamil complaints of domination by Sinhalese-led central governments, our correspondent adds.

The government hopes this will negate the rebels' fight for a separate state - even as a civil war with the separatists rages on in the north where the rebels have their main stronghold.

About 70,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in 1983. The rebels want an independent state for minority Tamils in the north and east.




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