Over 60 per cent turnout in Sri Lanka provincial elections

Other News Materials 23 August 2008 17:06 (UTC +04:00)

An estimated 60-per-cent voter turn out was reported in two of Sri Lanka's nine provinces where elections were conducted on Saturday concluding a violent campaign marred by shootings, arson and voter intimidation, dpa reported.
Voting closed at 4.00 pm (1030 GMT) with more incidents of intimidation and violence reported, but election observers said they were not serious enough to affect the outcome of the poll.

The government regards the vote in the North Central province and the south-east Sabaragamuwa province as a key test of popular support for its campaign against Tamil rebels in the northern part of the country.

Polling stations opened at 7 am (0130 GMT) for the approximately 2.1 million voters eligible in the two provinces. Results were expected for early Sunday.

An escalation of violence was reported Wednesday and Thursday, prompting the government to deploy the army on Friday.

The ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa called on voters to endorse the ongoing military operations against the Tamil rebels.

"Vote for the UPFA and strengthen our hands to end terrorism," President Rajapaksa said.

The state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation announced that government troops were 12 kilometres south of the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi after capturing another rebel-held town Friday.

The radio said Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka was personally visiting the front line Saturday to direct soldiers to capture Kilinochchi town.

The main opposition United National Party, led by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, accused the government of misusing the military campaign for political purposes.

More than 20,000 police were deployed for the elections while more than 10,000 observers were involved in monitoring the poll.

In one area, Muslim voters had been turned away by a militant Tamil group which is backing the government. The incident occurred in the Polonnaruwa district where the group also fielded a candidate on the ruling UPFA list.