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Sri Lanka opposition warns of violence ahead of vote

world Updated: Jan 23, 2010 13:48 IST

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Sri Lanka's opposition warned on Saturday of possible vote-rigging and violence by the ruling party ahead of next week's presidential election as both sides wound up campaigning.

Ahead of the final rallies later on Saturday, opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka predicted that the ruling party, led by President Mahinda Rajapakse, would use violence to intimidate his supporters in the Tuesday vote.

"They want to create violence and discourage people from voting. A lower turnout will help rigging," he told reporters, adding that he expected fake voters and forged ballot papers to also be used.

In the run-up to the poll, police say at least four people have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes between supporters. The house of an influential opposition figure was bombed on Friday.

Fonseka said he and his allies would rely on the protection of the security forces, most of whom he said would vote for him except for a few senior figures who are "trying to please the government."

"We can't counter violence with violence. We have to abide by the law," he said.

The ruling party has denied allegations that it plans to rig the voting and independent election commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake told reporters Friday he would order a re-poll if any violence was used against voters.

Fonseka, a former army chief, fielded a series of questions about the possibility of an army coup against him if he wins the vote and the movements of armoured vehicles into Colombo as tension rises in the capital.

But he said there would be no popular support for a coup and that he had full confidence in the army.

A group of Fonseka supporters wearing green caps and party T-shirts walked noisily behind a procession of rickshaws on the streets outside the venue of his press conference.

Fonseka and Rajapakse were to finish campaigning at rallies planned in and around Colombo later Saturday.

The country heads for its first peace-time presidential election Tuesday after a bitter, intensely personal campaign between the architects of the country's victory over rebel forces.

Rajapakse handpicked Sarath Fonseka to be his army chief in 2005 and the two men were victorious allies on the battlefield last year against the Tamil Tiger rebels but are now sworn enemies at the ballot box.

The poll marks the first time in 37 years that Sri Lankans have gone to polls without the influence of the Tigers, who fought a brutal war for a Tamil homeland before being crushed by government forces in May last year.