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Vote in Sri Lanka's North Stirs Tamil Calls for Army to Get Out

Vote in Sri Lanka's North Stirs Tamil Calls for Army to Get Out

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Published by Maria Anderson

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Published by: Maria Anderson on Sep 19, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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By Shihar Aneez
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka
| Thu Sep 19, 2013(Reuters) - Voters in northern Sri Lanka go to the polls on Saturday in a provincialelection that threatens to stir up old animosity between the government and ethnicminority Tamils.Defeat for the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be largely symbolic,but victory for the main Tamil party could reignite calls for autonomy.Northern Sri Lanka was the heartland of a Tamil Tiger separatist movement thatbattled the central government from 1983 until the rebels' crushing defeat in 2009.Most voters in the north are ethnic Tamils and many of them are bitter about what theysee as virtual occupation of the region by the army which they accuse of rights abusesin the final, bloody stages of the war.They are expected to vote overwhelmingly for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the
former political proxy of the now defeated rebels, in the vote for 38 provincialcouncilors.The government has accused the TNA of renewing calls for a separate state throughits push for the devolution of power. The TNA says it wants devolution in a united SriLanka, not a separate state.The party's chief candidate, C.V. Wigneswaran, said getting the army out of the northwould be his first priority."The army is the real problem," said Wigneswaran, 74, a former judge, sitting outsidehis party's election office."If you take away the army ... our people will be freed of the intrusions and interferencein their day-to-day life. We will not be subject to unnecessary harassment."Rajapaksa and his government have come under international pressure to bring tobook those accused of war crimes committed at the end of the war and to boost effortson reconciliation in the polarized country.The government has rejected accusations of rights abuses and Rajapaksa in Julyordered an inquiry into mass disappearances, mostly of Tamils, at the end of the war.LONG SHOTThe chief candidate for Rajapaksa's ruling party, Sinnathurai Thavarajah, said the TNAwas misleading voters with talk of getting the army out, which had nothing to do with aprovincial council.

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