Page last updated at 14:16 GMT, Sunday, 29 November 2009

Ex-army chief Fonseka will run for Sri Lanka presidency

General Sarath Fonseka, pictured on 26 November 2009
Gen Fonseka says he has never lost a battle yet

Sri Lanka's former military chief has formally announced that he will run in presidential elections early next year.

General Sarath Fonseka's move sets the scene for a stand-off with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has called the election two years ahead of schedule.

Gen Fonseka is at odds with the government over who should take credit for Sri Lanka's final victory over Tamil Tiger rebels in May.

Two main opposition parties say they will support the former top soldier.

The electoral office announced on Friday that presidential polls would be held on 26 January.

'Tin-pot dictator'

At a news conference on Sunday, Gen Fonseka criticised the president for failing to return the country to normality at the end of the civil war.

He said the government was curtailing media freedom and dragging its feet on resettling war refugees - echoing complaints from international rights groups.

"We have done away with the terrorists. But now you can't leave the country in the hands of a tin-pot dictator," he said.

"If I am elected, I will scrap the executive presidency within six months, hold parliamentary elections and adopt a new constitution that will uphold democracy, social justice and media freedoms."

Speaking to journalists late on Friday, Gen Fonseka had said he expected to defeat the president.

"I have never lost a battle. I can win this one too," he said.

The 58-year-old is credited by many with securing the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels after decades of conflict.

He stepped down as chief of defence staff in November, amid reports of a falling-out with Mr Rajapaksa.

The general has a reputation as a Sinhalese nationalist, but he has also left open the possibility that he might be open to any alleged war crimes by the army being investigated.

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