08/22/2008, 00.00
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Amid violence and intimidations two Sri Lankan provinces go to the polls

by Melani Manel Perera
Tomorrow voters in Sabaragamuwa and North Central provinces will cast their ballots. The Elections Commission reports more than 150 attacks against candidates and parties in the last few weeks. The Congress of Religions calls for “free and fair” elections.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Congress of Religions, which unites Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and Muslim leaders, has called for a violence-free election in two Sri Lankan provinces. Voters in Sabaragamuwa and North Central provinces are called to cast their ballot tomorrow but the electoral campaign has turned into a “barbaric struggle” for power. Both areas have seen many episodes of violence.

In a press release the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) said that the situation was not conducive to a free and fair election due to the increased number of incidents of violence in the two provinces. As of midnight Tuesday 156 case of pre-election violence were reported including 73 attacks on candidates, 44 cases of intimidation, 39 cases of damaging property belonging to parties and 20 attacks on vehicles.

About 21,000 policemen will be deployed on special duty to patrol streets and protect polling stations to ensure free and fair election.

On Wednesday religious leaders met top Elections Commission officials to express their concern about the rising violence. They were given broad reassurances that everything “had been done to ensure peaceful elections.”

Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said that there will be “certain limitations’ which cannot be revealed to the public but which will be illustrated before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms.

Fr Damian Fernando, director of Caritas Sri Lanka, told AsiaNews that “the current situation of chaos could have been avoided had the 17th amendment to the constitution, which calls for creation of a special independent police commission, been implemented.

Religious leaders complained as well that “Sabaragamuwa and North Western provinces have virtually become a battlefield” and that people are denied their constitutional right to “free and fair elections”.

The National Peace Council (NPC) issued a strong statement, urging the government of Sri Lanka and opposition parties “to respect and follow the law” during the electoral process.

For the NPC a clash between the parties with violence and impunity “would mean the law of the jungle”.

For this reason it calls upon “the Elections Commissioner to do his statutory duty” and implement “the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.”

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