South Asia

Tamil party wins elections in Sri Lanka's ex-war zone

A Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil man peeps from between a wall pasted with election propaganda of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa"s ruling party, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Friday, July 22, 2011
The government fought hard to do well in the north

Sri Lanka's biggest Tamil party has won local elections in the island's former war zone in the north and east.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) took 18 out of 26 councils in what is being seen as a rare electoral setback for the government of President Rajapaksa.

His Sinhalese-dominated coalition won in all other areas being contested.

The TNA was in effect a proxy of the Tamil Tigers, who troops defeated in May 2009, but it now seeks greater devolution for Sri Lanka's provinces.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says the results indicate that ethnic polarisation is still an issue in the country.

'Scare tactics'

Elections were held in a patchwork of councils around Sri Lanka, including the mainly Tamil north and the more ethnically mixed east.

The TNA - which projects itself as the main representative of the northern and eastern Tamils - has become more moderate since the end of the war and now accepts that Sri Lanka will remain united with no place for separatism.

But it wants more powers devolved than President Rajapaksa will agree to and the party's talks with him on political reforms have so far yielded nothing.

Outside the north and east every contested council was taken by the governing coalition.

The government lavished the north with ministers, money and posters during the campaign - it wanted to do well there to ward off international pressure on human rights, our correspondent says.

Civil society groups and Tamil politicians accused the government of using scare tactics and threats during the campaign.

The government denied it and the election commissioner said the actual voting day was largely peaceful.

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