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Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Holds Early Vote Lead


Election officials in Sri Lanka say initial returns show Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse is leading in the contest to chose a new president.

Officials said the first results were from ballots mailed in by government workers and soldiers away from home. Final results are expected Friday.

Mr. Rajapakse has campaigned on a promise to take a hard-line with Tamil Tiger rebels. Also running is opposition leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who says he will seek to negotiate with rebels.

Officials say about 75 percent of voters cast ballots in the presidential vote, though turn-out was very low in rebel-held areas in the north and east.

The Tigers have rejected the candidates for president and called the ballot meaningless.

Two people died in violence in rebel-held areas, but voting was peaceful in western and southern Sri Lanka.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.

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