Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sri Lanka holds postwar polls in northern towns

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka hailed elections Saturday near an area once dominated by the Tamil Tiger rebels as the first seeds of democracy sprouting along the former battlefields of its recently ended civil war.

But opposition parties accused the ruling coalition of restricting their campaigns, the government barred most media from the region, and voters appeared apathetic to the first elections in the northern cities of Vavuniya and Jaffna since 1998.

The cities, where Tamils are a majority, are just outside the shadow state the Tamil Tigers ran as a virtual dictatorship and were frequently hit by violence during the quarter-century civil war.

The government recaptured the territory and routed the rebels on the battlefield in May, ending a conflict that killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people. The rebels were fighting for a separate state for minority Tamils after decades of marginalization by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.

"This is another step toward strengthening democracy in the north," said Douglas Devananda, a government minister from Jaffna. Devananda's Tamil party — with its armed paramilitary wing — is leading the ruling coalition's election slate in Jaffna.
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