11/18/2005, 00.00
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Rajapakse is Sri Lanka's new President

With a 2 per cent margin, the current Prime Minister is elected by the Buddhist and Sinhalese majority. His victory raises fears that the peace process with the Tamil Tigers might be in jeopardy; similar fears are voiced over religious freedom.

Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Sri Lankan Socialist Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has won the presidential election by just a 2 per cent margin. He secured 50.3 per cent of the popular vote against his main opposition rival, market-oriented reformer Ranil Wickramasinghe, who won 48.4 per cent.

After the victory the new president said he would "bring about an honourable peace" to the country despite having won largely because of nationalist support among Sri Lanka's Buddhist and Sinhalese majority, after a campaign in which he opposed granting a wide autonomy to the predominantly Tamil in the north-eastern regions of the country.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for the self-determination of this part of the island nation. And in more than 30 years, the conflict has killed more than 60,000 people.

The LTTE's urging to Tamils not to vote seems to have tipped the balance in Rajapakse's favour. In the main Tamil city of Jaffna, only 0.1 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot against an average of 75 per cent in the south and west.

Mr Wickramasinghe's opposition United National Party (UNP) demanded a fresh election in Tamil-dominated areas.

Mr Rajapakse will be sworn in tomorrow as the fifth president of the island nation and will take office in two weeks time from two-term President Chandrika Kumataruung.

The new President wants to put everything back on the negotiating table with Tamil rebels after a cease-fire came into effect in 2002. Since talks stalled in 2003, he has been seen as an obstacle to the peace process.

A populist, Rajapakse is in favour of a more protected national economy. He has also pledged subsidies for farmers.

In October he tried to allay fear among Sri Lanka's Catholics about the state of religious freedom by saying that he would defend religious rights.

Currently, parliament is discussing two bills—Bill on the Prohibition of Forcible Conversion and an Act for the Protection of Religious Freedom—which would punish anyone who facilitates conversion by fraudulent means. Ostensibly, these would-be laws are designed to put a stop to alleged Christian proselytising.

Voting yesterday was marred by a few episodes of violence and unrest.

This morning four people died and 25 were wounded in an attack against a mosque in Akkaraipattu, about 350 km east of the capital Colombo.

Unknown assailants threw hand grenades inside the place of worship where the faithful were gathered for Friday prayers.

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See also
Theoretician of ‘Sinhalese supremacy’ becomes minister
Senior peace adviser to the president resigns
Anti-conversion bill to become law soon
Marian shrine in Madhu to become ‘peace zone’
Extremist minister in favour of extra-judicial means to “restore order”


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