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Kerry pushes Sri Lanka leader to hold ‘free, fair’ polls

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Top US diplomat John Kerry has urged Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to ensure that Thursday’s elections are peaceful and credible, a US official said.

Rajapakse, South Asia’s longest serving leader, faces an unprecedented challenge from a newly galvanized opposition as he seeks re-election, five years after his crushing military victory over Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

Kerry spoke with him on Tuesday "to underscore the government’s responsibility to ensure the January 8 elections will be free from violence and intimidation," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

The US secretary of state also pressed the Sri Lankan leader to ensure that "the vote counting is carried out credibly and transparently."

Last week, supporters of Rajapakse’s main rival Maithripala Sirisena accused the government of deploying thousands of troops to Tamil-majority areas as part of a strategy to intimidate voters.

Rajapakse won a landslide election victory in 2010, but critics say the 69-year-old has failed to bring about reconciliation with Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority in the years that followed.

His second term has been dogged by accusations of corruption, including undermining the independence of the judiciary and lining the pockets of political cronies through lucrative contracts.

Psaki said the US administration was concerned about reports of violence in the run-up to the vote, and urged the government to investigate any allegations of fraud.

"We urge the government, its election officials and police, all political and actors to ensure access to all vote centers for the voters to vote and counting centers for all international and domestic observers," she added.





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