Sri Lankan Tamil party backs opposition for president

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's main ethnic Tamil political party said Tuesday that it will support the chief opposition candidate in January's presidential election, in the latest blow to Mahinda Rajapaksa's bid for a third term in office.

Tamil National Alliance leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan said his party will back Maithripala Sirisena, who defected from the Rajapaksa government last month, because it believes Rajapaksa has failed to heal the island's long-standing ethnic conflict despite ending 25 years of civil war in 2009.

"We would rather repose our faith in the joint opposition candidate Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, rather than expect what has not happened in the past 10 years to happen hereafter," Sampanthan said.

The country's largest Muslim political party also announced on Sunday that it was leaving Rajapaksa's camp to support Sirisena in the election. More than 20 lawmakers and ministers have defected to the opposition.

Rajapaksa led a military campaign that defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, ending a long campaign for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils. However, he is accused of reneging on promises to share power with the Tamil-majority north and multiethnic east, and of falling behind on rehabilitation efforts for war-affected Tamils.

"The Rajapaksa regime has been particularly harmful to the wellbeing of the Tamil-speaking peoples of Sri Lanka," the party said in a statement. It said the government had "failed to engage genuinely in a process of evolving an acceptable political solution, except to engage in deceitful and dilatory exercises."

It said instead of resettling, rehabilitating and providing livelihood opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians displaced by the conflict, the government had resorted to land grabs and denied justice for those died, disappeared or were detained for long periods without trial.

"The Rajapaksa regime has only brought pain and suffering to the Tamil-speaking peoples of this country," it said.

While the Tamil party's decision could provide more votes for Sirisena, it could also provide the Rajapaksa campaign with a way to accuse the opposition of siding with separatists. The Tamil party was considered a proxy for the Tamil rebels during the civil war but has since agreed to accept power sharing in an undivided country.

The Tamil party said it was concerned with the country's "inexorable move toward dictatorship" under the Rajapaksa administration, with the president holding wide-ranging powers.

"The removal of the two-term limitation on the office of the president was clearly intended to perpetuate this dictatorship and authoritarianism," it said.

Rajapaksa was first elected to office in 2005 and won re-election in 2010, riding on his popularity from defeating the Tamil Tigers. He used his party's two-thirds majority in Parliament to abolish the term limit for the presidency and assumed powers to appoint judges, top bureaucrats, police and military chiefs.

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