Sri Lanka elections called


Protest demanding investigation of war crimes. Jaffna, Sri Lankan-occupied Tamil Eelam, February 24.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has dissolved parliament and called elections for August 17. Sirisena was elected president on January 9, replacing Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sirisena had been a minister in Rajapaksa's government for nearly 10 years but resigned to contest the presidential election with the support of the United National Party, the main opposition party in Sri Lanka's parliament. On being elected, he appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as prime minister.

Rajapaksa has announced he will stand in the parliamentary elections. He still has strong support among members of parliament belonging to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, to which he and Sirisena both belong.

The conflict between Sirisena and Rajapaksa is due to conflicting leadership ambitions rather than major political differences. Both were part of a government that waged a genocidal war against the Tamil people.

Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the island's north and east. Tamil areas still remain under military occupation.

Many Tamils voted for Sirisena in the hope that he would be better than Rajapaksa. But Sirisena's election has not led to major changes in the treatment of Tamils.

Military governors of Tamil areas have been replaced by civilians, but the army continues to intimidate and harass Tamils.

A small proportion of the land occupied by military bases has been given back to its Tamil owners, but in other areas the army has seized more land.

Political prisoners have not been released. Some Tamils who have returned to Sri Lanka after working overseas have been arrested on terrorism charges. There has been no accounting for missing persons who disappeared after being arrested or abducted by the armed forces. Sexual harassment of Tamil women by military personnel continues.

Despite the repression, Tamils have continued to protest for the return of their land, for information about missing people, and for an international investigation of war crimes.

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