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My dream of becoming prime minister has faded away: Rajapaksa

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R_WickremasingheColombo: Sri Lanka’s ruling UNF led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday claimed victory in the parliamentary polls after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat.

The United National Party (UNP), the key constituent in the country’s minority government, expressed confidence that it would get the numbers in the 225-seat parliament to form the next government.

Minister Karu Jayasuriya, who led the election campaign for his party, said the UNF was confident of winning 105-107 seats and secure the help of friendly parties to form a government.

“We intend to keep our promises and develop the country,” UNP leader John Amaratunga said after netting the Gampaha seat. He said Wickremesinghe would take oath as prime minister later on Tuesday.

It is the first time in 14 years the UNP wrested Gampaha, indicating a major mood swing in the country where Rajapaksa reigned supreme for over a decade until his dramatic loss in the January presidential election this year.

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A sombre Rajapaksa conceded defeat in Monday’s keenly fought elections.

“My dream of becoming the prime minister has faded away,” Rajapaksa told AFP. “I am conceding we have lost a good fight.”

Election officials said the UNP had bagged 11 of the 22 districts from where results were available. The UPFA had won eight while the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil party, was the victory in three districts in the Tamil-majority northern province.

The UPFA’s victories came from Sinhalese-majority areas including Hambantota, the stronghold of the Rajapaksa family.

But the emerging results showed the UNF had made inroads in the districts where Rajapaksa had the upper hand in the January presidential contest.

The main battle was between the UNF led by Wickremesinghe and the UPFA, which had Rajapaksa as its main candidate.

Both Jaffna and Vanni districts, which saw thousands of deaths in the end stages of armed conflict that ended in 2009, voted for the TNA, which is expected to ally with Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe urged Sri Lankans not to divide themselves as winners and losers and work together as one family for the betterment of Sri Lanka and to introduce a new political culture to the country.

He said in a statement that people had given a mandate for good governance and consensus-based politics.

President Maithripala Sirisena said Monday’s election was one of the most peaceful, free and fair election in the history of Sri Lanka.

(IANS)

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Sri Lanka: Hardline Buddhist Groups Likely Behind Anti-Muslim Attacks

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels

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Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups
Muslim men stand near a damaged three-wheeler, after a mob attack in a mosque in the nearby village of Kottampitiya, Sri Lanka, May 14, 2019. VOA

Sri Lanka said on Wednesday hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots that swept the island this week in apparent retaliation for Easter bombings by Islamist militants.

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels, killing more than 250 people and fueling fears of a backlash against the nation’s minority Muslims.

In the anti-Muslim unrest that started Sunday, mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest, ransacking mosques, burning Korans and attacking shops with petrol bombs, residents said.

Authorities have arrested some 78 suspected rioters, including three described as Sinhala Buddhist extremists who had been investigated for similar actions in the town in Kandy district last year.

Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups

Sri Lanka said on Wednesday hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots. Pixabay

“These are organized attacks on Muslim business houses and premises,” Navin Dissanayake, minister of plantation industries, said during a government news conference about the security situation.

Asked who was organizing the attacks, Dissanayake said: “I think these organizations that Amith Weerasinghe, Dan Priyasad, and Namal Kumara [are heading],” referring to the three Buddhist extremists arrested on Tuesday.

Local media reported on Wednesday that Priyasad was released on bail on Wednesday while Weerasinghe was remanded until May 28. The status of Kumara was not clear.

A police spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on the arrests.

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Muslims make up nearly 10% of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. The Indian Ocean island was torn for decades by a civil war between separatists from the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government. The government stamped out the rebellion about 10 years ago.

In recent years, Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force” have stoked hostility against Muslims, saying Middle Eastern influence has turned the community more conservative and insular.

In the same press conference, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, minister of public administration, said the group behind the attacks had political aims.

“This group is trying to tarnish the government’s image and show the government is unable to handle the situation,” he said, without naming the organization.

Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups
In the anti-Muslim unrest that started Sunday, mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest. Wikimedia Commons

Authorities said the island was calm again, with no anti-Muslim violence reported on Wednesday.

Army probe

Also on Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s army said it was investigating a video posted on social media that showed a man wearing what appears to be an army uniform walking away seconds before an anti-Muslim mob attacked a building this week.

In the video, the man stands outside the building and then leaves. Seconds later, about two dozen people, including young men wearing motorbike helmets, run over and throw stones at the building.

Reuters could not independently verify the video. “The attention of the army has been drawn to a video clip where a person dressed in uniform similar to that of the army was watching while a group of violent saboteurs were in action in the general area of Thunmodara,” the army said in a statement announcing the investigation.

Two residents of Thunmodara, a town to the northeast of the capital Colombo, told Reuters that a mosque and some Muslim-owned shops were attacked.

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In over a dozen interviews in the hard-hit Kurunegala district northeast of Colombo, Muslims said attacks took place despite the presence of security forces.

One police source who declined to be identified told Reuters they did not have enough officers to handle the rioters. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera on Tuesday rejected allegations that police had stood by. (VOA)