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Eastern Lanka limps towards democracy

world Updated: May 10, 2008 23:26 IST
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Residents in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged east voted for the first time in two decades on Saturday in an election the government hopes will endorse its war to defeat Tamil Tiger rebels.

Voting began hours after a “Black Tiger” rebel suicide squad sank a naval ship in the eastern port of Trincomalee.

On Friday, a bomb exploded in a cafe, killing 12 people an injuring 29.

Security was tightened for the polls in the eastern districts of Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa, where the ruling alliance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has teamed up with former rebels, whom rights groups accuse of abuses such as child soldier recruitment but are seen as likely winners.

“We want peace soon, I will vote for the people who can bring us peace and send us home soon,” said S Chandrasekaran, a 42-year-old farmer who had to flee his home in 2006 when the military began an offensive to drive the Tigers out of the out.

Nearly 1 million people are eligible to vote for 1,342 candidates to fill 35 seats. The vote underpins the government’s twin strategy to defeat the rebels using both the ballot box and the current military offensive.

“Weak turnout was reported. A total of about 50 per cent had cast their vote by 3:00 pm,” said Kingsly Rodrigo, chairman of People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), an election monitoring group.

Analysts see the election as a referendum on the government’s military strategy against the Tigers.