Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan Christians have demonstrated against vote rigging in the recent presidential election, which ended in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory. A group of Catholic and Protestant bishops have urged the country’s leaders to “stop the violence” and work together to “preserve peace”. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s political crisis appears to be worsening. Clashes have occurred between opposition and government supporters. The anti-Rajapaksa camp has pledged to pursue all legal means against the “arbitrary arrest” of General Sarath Fonseka who is now refusing food out of fear that he might be poisoned. For his part, the president has dissolved parliament and called for elections on 8 April.
Opposition parties have brought General Fonseka’s case to the courts after he was arrested on Monday. In a press release, they said they intend to put the matter before the court, the people and the international community. Opposition leaders said they have good reason to believe that the arrest of the former chief of the Defence Staff could end with his murder in prison.
General Fonseka’s wife, Anoma, visited her husband in prison. She said that he does not trust anyone and refuses any food that is brought to him.
In the capital supporters from the two sides battled it out in the streets today. Thousands of anti-government demonstrators burnt President Rajapaksa in effigy, and called for General Fonseka’s release. Government supporters attacked them, pelting them with rocks and stones.
The president in the meantime has dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections on 8 April. His goal is to secure a two-third majority to gain absolute control over the island-nation.
Also today, Catholic and Protestant bishops made an appeal, which appears to have fallen on deaf years. In it, they called for peace and an end to the violence, after 30 years of fighting in northern Sri Lanka against Tamil Tiger rebels.
In a joint press release, the prelates said that people are denied an objective understanding of the real issues, whilst democratic principles are being trampled without any qualms.
Furthermore, they said that the high levels of campaign spending raises ethical issues concerning the leadership qualities of politicians, who ought to fight against poverty and guarantee justice to internally displaced people.
As a general election approaches, the bishops said that the country’s political culture should change so that sovereignty is vested again in the people.
The fate of war refugees and the Tamil minority also remains a priority. Likewise, they note that Tamils could not vote for lack of adequate transportation and roads.
Lastly, Catholic and Protestant bishops slammed the violence and intimidation forced on government opponents and independent journalists.
“The president as well as political, religious and civil society leaders must set standards to reduce tensions and ensure justice and protection for all,” they said.
Last Saturday, Christian leaders and believers in Negombo, a district in the Western Province, also organised a protest rally (pictured) against alleged vote rigging, which helped Rajapaksa’s re-election bid.
They handed out about 5,000 leaflets, urging everyone to “unite against the election violation”.
Mgr Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, has been informed of accusations of corruption and vote rigging in a letter sent on 2 February.