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Muslim Voters Attacked in Sri Lanka

Muslim Voters Attacked in Sri Lanka

Saturday, 16 November, 2019 - 06:30
FILE PHOTO: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defense chief, with his brothers, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and opposition leader and Chamal Rajapaksa (R) are seen as they leave after handing over nomination papers at the election commission ahead of Sri Lanka's presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
Asharq Al-Awsat

A convoy of buses carrying minority Muslim voters in northern Sri Lanka was attacked by gunfire and stones and blocked by burning tires hours before polls opened Saturday in presidential elections.

There were no reported injuries and police were investigating, said Manjula Gajanayake, spokesman for the Colombo-based Center for Monitoring Election Violence.

Campaigning was dominated by worries over national security in the backdrop of the deadly ISIS-inspired suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday that killed 269 people. At the same time, there’s fear among both minority Tamils and Muslims about a return to power of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a hard-line former defense official under his brother, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa had been widely expected to triumph over the ruling party candidate, Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa. But as the election approached, the race became very close.

Premadasa’s supporters organized the more than 100-vehicle convoy of Muslims who had fled their homes in the northern district of Mannar in 1982, when the separatist insurgency of Tamil rebels began to grow.

The Elections Commission had encouraged them to register as voters in Mannar but had not arranged enough transportation to bring them from their homes in the northwestern district of Puttalam, Gajanayake said.

One of three Election Commissioners, Ratnajeevan Hoole, said the authorities failed to provide adequate protection to internally displaced minority Muslims in the multi-ethnic northwest.

"They (the Muslims) asked for polling booths in the areas where they are living without having to travel a long distance to their original village to vote," Hoole said in a statement.

"They were sure that a disturbance like this would happen," he said, adding that his pleas for protection were not considered by the Election Commission, which works through majority decisions.

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