Sri Lanka’s former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse formally launched his political comeback bid Friday from the historic Buddhist pilgrim town of Anuradhapura with a call for ethnic reconciliation.
Rajapakse, 69, a staunch Sinhalese nationalist credited with crushing Tamil rebels and ending a 37-year-long separatist war in 2009, is standing for election in parliamentary polls on August 17 after losing a presidential vote in January.
After initially saying he wanted to retire, Rajapakse re-emerged earlier this month seeking to spearhead the parliamentary election campaign for his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
The new leader of the party, President Maithripala Sirisena, earlier this week predicted his predecessor would be defeated at the polls as minority Tamils and Muslims would not vote for him.
However, Rajapakse told thousands of supporters in Anuradhapura, 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of the capital Colombo, that he was ready to learn from his mistakes and work towards ethnic and religious unity.
"I am ready learn from my mistakes… we must work towards ethnic reconciliation and ensure that religious and other minorities are protected," Rajapakse said.
He made no direct reference to his bitter relations with Sirisena, but promised economic reforms if he is elected.
He denied allegations that he stole billions of dollars during his nine-year rule and told his accusers to "look in the mirror" before making accusations. (Anuradhapura/July17/2015/AFP)
Rajapakse, an ethnic Sinhalese, remains popular among big sections of the island’s majority Sinhalese-Buddhist community for overseeing the defeat of the Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009.