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January 12, 2015

Sri Lanka to investigate alleged coup attempt by outgoing president

Sri Lanka to investigate alleged coup attempt by outgoing president

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Monday, January 12, 2015

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Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Image: Estonian Foreign Ministry/Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka.

The government of Sri Lanka are to investigate claims of an alleged coup by the outgoing president Mahinda Rajapaksa following his defeat in the recent presidential election by Maithripala Sirisena.

Mangala Samaraweera, aide to the new president, said yesterday at a press conference: “People think it was a peaceful transition. It was anything but”. He went on to say “The first thing the new cabinet will investigate is the coup and conspiracy by President Rajapaksa”.

Samaraweera also said the coup was unsuccessful due to the military not cooperating, saying the president “stepped down only when the army chief and the police inspector general refused to go along with him.” Samaraweera alleged Rajapaksa wanted to deploy soldiers and police to halt vote counting after early results suggested he was unlikely to win the election.

Rajapaksa has strongly denied the allegations and Rajapaksa’s media secretary Wijayananda Herat claimed the consultation with police and military leaders was only to instruct them to tighten the country’s security measures. Ruwan Wanigasooriya, a spokesman for the country’s military, told Agence France-Presse no attempted coup had come to his attention.

Following his election win, the new president gave a speech from the city of Kandy where he said he would protect the country’s religious minorities: “While protecting the country’s main religion Buddhism, we also protect the rights and freedom of Hindu, Muslim, and Catholic people in practicing their religion and create consensus among them to build up this country”.

Sirisena also vowed to take on corruption in government: “I will take all the steps to eliminate corruption, loopholes, and bribes completely from this country”. He also pledged to protect freedom of the press in Sri Lanka, stating he had ordered news websites to be unblocked by the country’s Telecommunication Regulation Commission. Rajitha Senaratne, a member of the Sri Lankan Parliament who acted as a spokesman for Sirisena, also addressed the topic of press freedom during the election campaign, saying the government would investigate the killing of journalists and phone tapping would no longer occur.



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March 15, 2010

Tamil party drops commitment to independence from Sri Lanka

Tamil party drops commitment to independence from Sri Lanka

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Monday, March 15, 2010

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Percentage of ethnic Tamils in each district of Sri Lanka. Regular numbers are from 2001 census, italic numbers from 1981 census.
Image: Sadalmelik.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the chief political party of the ethnic Tamil group in Sri Lanka, has said in its manifesto for upcoming elections that it would accept a “federal structure” for the country. Since its formation in 2001, the TNA had previously aimed for full independence for Tamil regions. The party also stated it would encourage non-violent civil disobedience in support of Tamil rights.

Sri Lanka’s civil war has killed up to 100,000 people, after the Tamil Tiger rebel group began its armed struggle in 1983. The TNA had widely been viewed as a political wing to the Tigers. In 2009 the Sri Lankan government launched a major military assault against Tiger militants in the north of the country, which displaced around 280,000 people and provoked international controversy. However it succeeded in defeating the rebels, and led to the re-election of president Mahinda Rajapaksa this year.

The TNA, a coalition of various Tamil parties, currently holds 22 seats in the Sri Lankan parliament but has been weakened by the defeat of the Tigers. Since its formation in 2001 it has pushed for independence for the Tamil dominated regions of the north and east, but has had to avoid any direct endorsement of separatism, which would be considered illegal.

In the new manifesto, released on Saturday, the party also said that it would begin a civil disobedience movement in the style of Mahatma Gandhi. One section said: “If the Sri Lankan state continues its present style of governance without due regard to the rights of the Tamil-speaking peoples, [we] will launch a peaceful, non-violent campaign of civil disobedience on the Gandhian model.”

The parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka are due to occur on 8 April. The government are also hoping to strengthen their position, and achieve the two-thirds majority they need to enact changes to the constitution.



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January 27, 2010

Votes in Sri Lankan presidential elections counted

Votes in Sri Lankan presidential elections counted

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006
Image: US Department of State.

Ballots are being counted in Sri Lanka, after a presidential election was held there, the first after the Tamil Tiger rebels were defeated during a 25-year-long civil war.

The incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is expected to be in a close race against former army chief, General Sarath Fonseka; both candidates say they expect to win. There are twenty other candidates on the ballot, but none of them are expected to win.

Polls closed at 16.00 local time, or 10.30 GMT on Tuesday. There were claims of voter intimidation and sporadic acts of violence, and the BBC reports that there were some small bomb blasts. The independent operating organisation Centre for Monitoring Election Violence said it had confirmed close to a hundred violent incidents during the day, adding that it believes the number could rise to 150.

Tamil politician Dharmalingam Sithadthan, however, described the voting as “very peaceful”.

Polls were reportedly busy, with stations in the capital of Colombo being filled with lines of people half an hour before polls officially opened at 07.00 (01.30 UTC).

“I have been voting at this booth for over 20 years but never saw a crowd like this,” said businessman Mohamed Sallel, who had voted in the Borella district of the capital, as quoted by The Telegraph. Another voter, Doctor Nimalka Perera, gave an account of the crowds: “When I first came here, the queue was too long so I went back and came two hours later on my way to the hospital and found the line even longer.”

President Rajapakse, after voting in his home constituency, addressed reporters. “We will have a great victory. We must be ready to face the challenges of reaching new heights after this vote,” he said.

Cquote1.svg I have been voting at this booth for over 20 years but never saw a crowd like this Cquote2.svg

—Businessman and voter Mohamed Sallel

Fonseka, however, wasn’t able to cast a ballot, apparently because his name didn’t appear on the 2008 electroral register used for the elections.

“My name is not on the 2008 register and therefore I cannot vote at this election. The government is trying to use this to mislead the public at the last minute,” Fonseka stated, saying that he had filled out his voter registration forms.

Foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama, as well as other politicians from the ruling party, suggested that Fonseka might be disqualified from the elections. “We are seeking a court order on the suitability of this candidate because he is not eligible to be declared as a candidate,” Bogollagama said, adding that the government wanted a ruling from the courts.

Independent elections commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake, however, remarked: “Not having one’s name on the electoral list is not a disqualification.”

The country’s electoral rules state that if neither candidate is able to obtain half of the ballots cast in the first count, then voters’ second preferences are to be used to determine the winner. Political observers commented that election was too close to call between the two.



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May 17, 2009

Sri Lankan president declares victory over rebels

Sri Lankan president declares victory over rebels

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

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File:Mahinda Rajapakse.jpg

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels on Saturday, after a civil war lasting 26 years.

“I will be going back to a country that has been totally freed from the barbaric acts of the LTTE. This freedom comes after 30 long years,” Rajapakse said. “My government’s precise and well coordinated humanitarian operation has so far succeeded in rescuing over 210,000 civilians who were being used as human shields by the LTTE.

“We have restricted the LTTE to one square kilometre-like area, so we will mop up and seize the rest of the LTTE cadres and the leadership,” the president said.

According to defence officials, Sri Lankan military forces have locked down the entire northeastern coast of Mullaithivu, where the Tigers are located, and have surrounded them in a small jungle. A statement by the Sri Lanka Defence Ministry said that the army is bracing for a mass suicide attempt against government forces.

The Tigers have refused to give up to the army. It is believed they are keeping thousands of civilians as shields. Anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 people are estimated to remain in the war zone.



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May 15, 2009

Sri Lankan president promises to end war in 48 hours

Sri Lankan president promises to end war in 48 hours

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Friday, May 15, 2009

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Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, pledged to end the decades-old war against the Tamil Tiger insurgents within two days.

File:Mahinda Rajapakse.jpg

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

“President Mahinda Rajapaksa has vowed that within the next 48 hours, thousands of Tamil civilians will be freed from the clutches of the Tamil Tigers,” a spokesman for the government said. He added the president had pledged that “all territory would be freed from the Tamil Tigers’ control”.

The president’s comments come as the Sri Lankan army has forced the Tiger rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), onto a small strip of coastline about 1.5 kilometers (1 mi) in length Thursday night. About 20,000–25,000 troops have been gathered for the final attack, and have encircled approximately 1,200–1,500 of the rebels.

The Tigers have been accused of holding civilians as human shields and shooting at those trying to flee, an accusation that they have denied. There are few impartial accounts of the fighting as the government has prevented journalists and aid workers from entering the area.

The country’s government has rebuffed international worries over thousands of civilians that are located in and around the war zone that have been threatened by powerful artillery bombarding the area.

The United Nations says that a further fifty thousand are estimated to still remain in the no-fire zone. In past months, approximately 200,000 civilians have fled from the war zones, and are currently residing in displacement camps.

Sri Lankan armies are largely supported by both India and USA, in a strategic calculus aiming to erase Tamil tiger resistances, who claim communist background. Tamils 1983’s resistances had start following segregation against them.



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January 29, 2009

Red Cross urges Sri Lanka to respect lives of Tamil civilians

Red Cross urges Sri Lanka to respect lives of Tamil civilians

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other agencies have raised the issue of a humanitarian crisis unfolding in the battle between Sri Lankan government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), with an estimated 250,000 civilians caught between the fighting according to the ICRC.

A school in the town of Mullaitivu, which was recaptured from Tamil nationalists on January 25.
Image: Umapathy.

Violence has intensified over the past few days in the Tamil-dominated northwest, where government forces have made strategically important gains, including the capture of Mullaitivu, the last rebel stronghold. But hundreds of thousands of civilians, nearly all Tamils, remain trapped within a 300 square kilometer war zone.

The ICRC, the only aid agency with a permanent presence in the war zone, says 250,000 people are trapped in the fighting, a figure that was repeated by the United Nations. The ICRC also claims that hundreds of civilians in the area have been killed or wounded, though an exact number was not given.

Sri Lankan officials say these figures are too high, though they have acknowledged the existence of some civilian casualties. In an effort to help civilians seek shelter, the government has unilaterally established a 32-square-km “no-fire zone” in the middle of the war area. The army dropped pamphlets urging civilians to go there for safety.

However, the LTTE have accused the Sri Lankan military of firing artillery shells into the safe zone, while the government denies such accusations. Likewise, the LTTE have denied the claim that they are using civilians as human shields by forcing them to stay in the area while holding them at gunpoint. The LTTE have yet to answer the military’s accusation that they deliberately placed their heavy weapons near populated areas and hospitals.

In response to accusations of firing at civilians, President Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged that his military would respect the boundaries of the no-fire zone. In a late-night meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the president assured his forces would “minimize the effects of conflict on Tamil civilians.” Mukherjee has pledged to send aid materials into northern Sri Lanka. However, some Indian media sources suspect this is a political move aimed at gaining favor with the DMK, a Tamil party in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Cquote1.svg We have a very large number of people, including tens of thousands of children, trapped in a fast-shrinking conflict zone. Cquote2.svg

—James Elder, UN spokesman

Meanwhile, the fate of civilians in the war zone remains uncertain, as the violence has prevented most foreign media and international agencies from entering the area. The ICRC has called on both sides to respect the lives of civilians. “People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers were injured while evacuating the wounded,” said Jacques de Maio, the head of operations for the ICRC in South Asia.

The ICRC says hundreds of patients are in need of emergency medical treatment. However, the UN says the LTTE have fired at their convoys and refused to allow evacuations to the nearest hospital, while the military had resumed firing during an attempted evacuation. The UN condemned this as a violation of international humanitarian law, which requires a guarantee of safe passage for aid workers on both sides.

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“It’s an incredibly serious situation,” said James Elder, a U.N. spokesman. “We have a very large number of people, including tens of thousands of children, trapped in a fast-shrinking conflict zone.” ICRC spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne did not explicitly accuse the LTTE of firing on their convoy, simply stating that the convoy had not been given full security assurances.

Sri Lankan military officials say the rebels are nearly defeated, with only about 30 kilometers of seafront remaining under their control. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara claims the LTTE have 1,200 well-trained cadres left, while the Sri Lankan army has around 50,000 troops deployed.

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January 27, 2009

Tamil Tigers promise to fight back against Sri Lankan forces

Tamil Tigers promise to fight back against Sri Lankan forces

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Tamil Tigers car with soldiers in 2004.
Image: Ulflarsen.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers, have told the BBC that they are prepared to fight back against Sri Lankan forces.

The vow follows reports that Sri Lankan forces are laying siege to the last rebel-held areas of the island. The Sri Lankan army have said that the “final battle” was underway and predicted that the Tamil rebellion is finished. There have been rumours that Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tigers’ leader since the conflict began, had fled in the face of the assault. But political leader B Nadesan denied this, telling the BBC that the claim was “malicious propaganda”.

According to Reuters, analysts say that around 2,000 Tiger fighters remain in the face of the 50,000-strong government push into the north, which began in August 2006. Government forces captured Mullaitivu, the last stronghold of the Tigers, on Sunday. The Associated Press says that Tigers have been preventing civilians from leaving the war zone, with the government accusing them of using civilians as human shields. In turn, the government has declared a section of the territory to be a safe area for civilians but there have been reports of artillery fire and the United Nations say troops have been fighting in the area.

Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka of the Sri Lankan army was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying “the end of terrorism is near and we will definitely win”. Meanwhile aid agencies say 230,000 Tamil refugees are in the remaining battle zone. The Associated Press say that the area is densely populated and diplomats have expressed concern about the use of ground troops in the area. Most journalists are forbidden from entering the war zone, making confirmation difficult.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa won the 2005 election on a hard-line ticket, ruling out autonomy for the Tamil north and east. This led to an increase in the war and the eventual abandonment of a Norwegian-mediated ceasefire at the start of last year.



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