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Sri Lanka Imposes Curfew After Violent Election Day - 2001-12-05


Sri Lanka is under curfew following the close of polls on a difficult and often violent election day. Election related violence has left about 60 people dead since the campaign began. Election monitors are calling for repolling in many constituencies.

The death toll is expected to climb after the worst spate of political violence ever seen in a Sri Lankan election. Reports of violence and intimidation continued as the island came under a nationwide curfew.

In one incident reported Wednesday night, gunmen fired on a van killing several supporters of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, an opposition group.

Sri Lanka's election commissioner admited there were problems with the vote in several parts of the country. Dayananda Dissanayake told the state run media that while counting has begun in some calm areas, problem areas will be discussed with party leaders and election officials on Thursday. Mr. Dissanayake is expected to annul the vote at several polling stations. Under new election laws he can also order repolling in areas affected by irregularities.

Several local and international election monitoring missions, including one from the European Union, are expected to ask Mr. Dissanayake to order fresh voting in parts of the north and east of the country where some 130,000 minority Tamil voters were unable to reach poling stations due to army blockades. John Cushnahan, head of the E.U. delegation, said he hopes the Commissioner will order fresh voting in these and several other areas.

Politicians of President Chandirka Kumaratunga's People's Alliance are blaming the opposition United National Front for the violence while opposition members said the government is responsible for most of the incidents. Election monitors agreed that both major parties have engaged in malpractice and violence.

Ending Sri Lanka's long-running war with Tamil separatists and reviving the economy were the main issues at the snap polls, which came just 14 months after the country's last general elections after President Kumaratunga lost her majority in Parliament. Last year's election was also marred by violence which included suicide bombings by Tamil rebels. The rebel's fight for a separate homeland for the island's minority Tamil population has killed over 64,000 people since 1983.

Counting is expected to continue through the night with initial results coming in midday Thursday. Sri Lanka's curfew is scheduled to end early Thursday morning.

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