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Known as a champion of human rights, Rajapaksa believes that power is not an ornament, but a means to serve people.
PTI | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON FEB 01, 2006 06:19 PM IST

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Described as the man of the masses, the fifth president of Sri Lanka dedicates himself to bring peace and economic prosperity among all the communities in Sri Lanka.

Often called "rebel with a cause", Rajapaksa represents former president Chandrika Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

The southern Sinhalas first voted for Rajapaksa in 1970, making him - then aged 24 - the island nation's youngest ever parliamentarian.

Mr Rajapaksa, an attorney-at-law, comes from a political family - his father, DA Rajapaksa, represented the same region of Hambantota from 1947 to 1965.

When he became the prime minister in April 2004, Rajapaksa was seen as someone who favoured a negotiated settlement with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

But after signing a poll deal with two nationalist parties, his stance has become increasingly hardline.

Ratnasiri Wickremanayake

Wickremanayake is the 14th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and was sworn in by President Rajapaksa on November 21, 2005.

He was the former minister of Buddha Sasana, Agriculture and Deputy Minister of Defence in the outgoing Cabinet of the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He also served as Prime Minister in Kumaratunga's People Alliance Government from August 2000 to 2001 December.

The septuagenarian received his first ministerial appointment in 1970, when he was appointed Deputy Minister for Justice. He became General Secretary of the SLFP in 1977. He was educated in Ananda College, a prestigious Buddhist school in Colombo and later in London.

Other eminent leaders

Sirimavo Bandaranaike 

Sirimavo was the prime minister of Sri Lanka three times: From July 21 1960 to March 27 1965, from May 29, 1970 to July 23, 1977 and from November 14, 1994 to August 10, 2000. 

She was the first woman prime minister in world history and probably the oldest female political leader who remained active by the time of her demise. 

Widow of Solomon Bandaranaike - prime minister in 1956 and assassinated in office in 1959 - she received her third government mandate from her own daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga who was to be sworn in as president by then. This was the first time in history that a woman succeeded another woman by elections.

Jayawardene, Junius Richard

Leader of the United Nationalist Party from 1973, he became prime minister in 1977 and the country's first president (1978-88). Jayawardene embarked on a free-market economic strategy, but was confronted with increasing Tamil-Sinhalese ethnic unrest, forcing the imposition of a state of emergency in 1983.

Ranasinghe Premadasa

A long-time leader in the United National Party, Ranasinghe Premadasa (1924-1993) became the second president of Sri Lanka in 1988.

Ranasinghe Premadasa, the ninth prime minister and second president of Sri Lanka, was born on June 23, 1924, in Colombo. He came from a family of modest means. Politically a self-made man, he was the first "commoner" to be at the helm of affairs, breaking a tradition of the top leadership being in the hands of high caste landed aristocracy or those coming from affluent families.

Educated in a Christian missionary college in Colombo, Premadasa initially opted for a career as a journalist. He was a prolific writer in his mother tongue, Sinhala, including a translation of the autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Chandrika Kumaratunga

That 'politics is in my blood family' sounds quite convincing for Chandrika Kumaratunga who came to power as president of Sri Lanka in 1994.

Both her parents were prime ministers of Sri Lanka. Her mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the world's first woman prime minister.

Kumaratunga, who spent five years at the University of Paris, is a firm supporter of Sri Lanka becoming a market economy.

The victory of her Peoples' Alliance coalition ended 17 years of rule by the United National Party (in 1994).

She 'extended the hand of friendship to the Tamil Tigers' through a press conference. But, there is little headway on that front.

Kumaratunga, who survived an assassination attempt by a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber on the final day of campaigning for presidential elections in 2000, went on to be re-elected for a second successive term as Sri Lanka's President.

Ranil Wickramasinghe

Ranil Wickramasinghe who became Sri Lanka's Prime Minister in 2001 first became known as the nephew of Sri Lanka's first executive president Junius Jayewardene.

A lawyer by profession, Mr Wickramasinghe was first elected to Parliament in 1977 and quickly moved up the party ladder after Ranasinghe Pramadasa was elected president in 1989.

He was made the minister of industries and leader of the House, and then went on to be prime minister for 16 months until Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance coalition came to power in 1994.

Mr Wickramasinghe lost in the presidential elections in December 1999 in what observers said was a sympathy vote for President Kumaratunga after she was injured in a bomb attack. 

Velupillai Prabhakaran

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran is only just emerging from the shadows after years as one of the world's most reclusive rebel leaders.

A 'fearless and ruthless fighter', he is dedicated to the struggle for an independent Tamil homeland in the country's north and east.

Born on the November 26, 1954, in the northern coastal town of Velvettithurai, on the Jaffna peninsula, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the  youngest of four children,  said in one of his rare interviews that he was fascinated by Napoleon and Alexander the Great, devouring books on their lives.

He was also influenced by the lives of two great Indian freedom fighters, Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh.

But following the signing in March 2002 of a permanent ceasefire agreement with the Sri Lankan Government, the veteran guerrilla is taking steps towards the political mainstream.

The killing of the mayor of Jaffna is not the only high-profile murder for which Mr Prabhakaran is the prime suspect, he has also been accused by India of playing a key role in the murder of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991.

He is the domineering force in the rebel movement, and without his consent peace in Sri Lanka will never be attainable.

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