Violence escalates ahead of Sri Lanka polls: officials
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Campaign-related violence escalated across Sri Lanka ahead of next week's elections as President Mahinda Rajapakse fights an unexpectedly tough battle to remain in power, poll monitors and police said Saturday, January 3.
The private Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) monitoring group said it had received 1,073 complaints since campaigning got underway in early December.
Police said they had received a much smaller number of complaints, but that 130 arrests had been made.
A deputy minister and 13 other elected representatives are among those who have been arrested in connection with 245 complaints of violence, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
CaFFE said the increasing violence was well organised and target the opposition, which is mounting a serious challenge against two-term incumbent Rajapakse.
"We are seeing a trend of increasing violence," CaFFE director Keerthi Tennakoon said. "The violence is well organised. It is almost always directed against the opposition's campaign."
Rajapakse's main rival, Maithripala Sirisena, narrowly escaped a stone attack at a political rally outside Colombo Friday night, but some 20 of his supporters were injured, the party said.
Mobile phone footage of Friday's stoning at the opposition rally shared on social media showed people trying to cover their heads and duck as stones were thrown from a nearby multi-storied building.
Police spokesman Rohana said two men were arrested and they were looking for four more suspects.
The opposition's Sirisena blamed pro-government elements for unleashing the attack against his rally.
The attack came hours after Sri Lanka's External Affairs ministry warned the European Union not to interfere in Thursday's elections after Colombo-based ambassadors urged the government to ensure peaceful polls -- a sentiment echoed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in a separate statement earlier this week.
Previous elections have been marred by violence, particularly against Tamil and Muslim voters, the opposition's major support base.
Sirisena left his health portfolio and quit Rajapakse's administration in November to become the main opposition candidate.
Local media reports say that the two men are currently neck and neck, although Rajapakse was considered the clear front-runner when he called the vote two years ahead of schedule.
The ruling party's vote sank 21 points at a local election in September, suggesting that the president's own popularity may be waning five years after he was credited with ending a separatist war that had claimed 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009. – Rappler.com