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Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa hails victory

Mahinda Rajapaksa
The president says he now has a decisive mandate to govern

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that his clear victory in Tuesday's presidential elections has answered his critics.

The president won six million votes compared to the four million cast for his main rival, Gen Sarath Fonseka.

Gen Fonseka has rejected the results and vowed to challenge them in court.

India congratulated the president on his victory as did the US, although it also urged a thorough investigation into alleged voting irregularities.

Tamil concerns

"The overwhelming mandate given in this election has given the answer to these critics," President Rajapaksa said in a statement.

Rajapaksa supporters celebrate in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 27 Jan

"The people of Sri Lanka, democratically and very clearly, have shown that they are now free of threats, free of fear, free of terrorism - and they have shown they support the measures which have freed them."

Mr Rajapaksa told reporters that he would start by focusing on the economic development of the country.

He also promised to focus on the concerns of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority and to discuss devolution of power - a subject his opponents have accused him of failing to address.

"From today onward, I am the president of everyone, whether they voted for me or not."

Analysts had predicted a closely-fought contest between the two architects of the government's victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

But in the end President Rajapaksa won the vote comfortably - capturing 57% of the vote in Tuesday's polling, while Sarath Fonseka won 40%, according to the election commission.

'Life in danger'

Gen Fonseka has complained that the vote was unfair and that his supporters were threatened and intimidated.

Sarath Fonseka
They are planning to assassinate me
Sarath Fonseka

Sri Lanka's election commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, said that state media and government institutions had violated his guidelines for fair campaigning, the Associated Press news agency reported.

However a spokesman for the independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence said that while there were reports of irregularities, there was no evidence to suggest large-scale fraud.

Speaking to the BBC's Sinhala service on Wednesday, Gen Fonseka confirmed that he was at his own home in Colombo.

His campaign had previously been based at a central Colombo hotel, which was surrounded by troops after the announcement of election results.

Gen Fonseka said his life was in danger and that the authorities had been instructed to prevent him from leaving the country.

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

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

While the island's Sinhalese majority provided bedrock support for the president's second term, Tamils concentrated in the war-ravaged northern and eastern provinces rejected him in favour of Gen Fonseka.

'Precarious edge'

But the president said: "I want to reach out to the Tamil people even if they did not vote for me this time."

Tamil voters at the at the Manik Farm camp for the internally displaced  people
The president says he is now the leader of all Sri Lankans

On Thursday, local newspapers urged him to forge reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils from the north and east, who have suffered disproportionately during the decades of war. Tens of thousands remain camps for the displaced.

"The politics in Sri Lanka has pushed the nation into such a precarious edge that a party leader can no longer win the support of both the Sinhalese and Tamil-Muslim combine alike," the independent Daily Mirror newspaper said in an editorial.

"It is only Mahinda Rajapaksa who has now emerged the undisputed leader among the Sinhalese who can put an end to this vicious cycle of communal politics."

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."

The US embassy congratulated Sri Lanka on its first post-war election, but urged the authorities to probe any ballot irregularities.

"We urge a thorough investigation of these allegations," the embassy said in a statement. "In addition, we urge the authorities to ensure the safety and security of all candidates."



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