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Sri Lanka Minister to Challenge President

Sri Lankan Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena acknowledges the gathering as he arrives to address the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.

A senior member of Sri Lanka's government says he is leaving the ruling party to run as the main opposition candidate against President Mahinda Rajapakse in upcoming elections.

Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who left the government with at least three other ministers, said Friday he has been selected to become the main opposition candidate.

Sirisena's defection from the government is a major setback for President Rajapakse who enjoys considerable support after leading a military campaign to end a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sirisena has accused the president's administration of nepotism and of taking the country toward authoritarianism.

Rajapakse has announced he is seeking an unprecedented third term as president.

Sri Lanka's constitution was changed in 2010 to eliminate the two-term limit. But some legal experts argue the amended constitution only applies to new presidents and cannot be used retroactively.

An election date has not yet been scheduled, but the elections are widely expected to be held in January.