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Sirise ousts Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka, Modi hails win

Colombo/New Delhi, January 9: Joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirise was on Friday elected Sri Lanka’s new president, decisively defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa in an election the incumbent scheduled two years ahead of time hoping an easy win.

Nearly a decade after he took power and later crushed the Tamil Tigers, Rajapaksa went down to his former health minister, who earned more than 51 percent of the votes cast in Thursday’s presidential battle. A stunned Rajapaksa conceded defeat and vacated his official residence after a brief meeting with opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in which he pledged cooperation with the new government.

Before leaving for Colombo from his home in northwestern Polonruwa province, Sirise, 63, pledged not to take revenge against political foes and vowed to promote Buddhism, the country’s domint religion.

Sirise, who in his election campaign accused Rajapaksa of corruption, nepotism and promoting family rule, said he would “create a just and equal society” and provide good governce. Hours before the Election Commission officially announced the result, Prime Minister rendra Modi became the first world leader to congratulate Sirise on his “historic” victory and urged him to visit India.

Modi also called for “genuine reconciliation” under Sirise’s leadership in Sri Lanka, where the killings of thousands of Tamils in the last stages of the war that destroyed the Tamil Tigers in 2009 is a major issue.

In recent times, Muslims and Christians have also turned bitter after coming under attack from Sinhalese–Buddhist hardliners linked to Rajapaksa while rights groups accuse him of committing war crimes. In a letter to Sirise, Modi said: “Your historic victory is a tribute to your vision for Sri Lanka, your capacity to connect with people’s yearning for change.

“I wish you all the success in building a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka, on foundations of genuine and effective reconciliation.” Modi also spoke to Sirise on telephone. Modi said in an earlier tweet: “As a close friend and neighbour, I reaffirmed India’s continued solidarity and support for Sri Lanka’s peace, development and prosperity.” The Indian government said its high commissioner in Colombo Y.K. Sinha, would attend Sirise’s swearing–in ceremony at the Independence Square in Colombo Friday evening. Celebrations erupted in Colombo as supporters of Sirise, whose dramatic defection from the cabinet to the opposition in November upset Rajapaksa’s hopes of winning a third term, burst firecrackers.

But there was none of the widely feared post–election violence. After conceding defeat, Rajapaksa tweeted: “Thank you to all the thousands of Sri Lankans who supported me.”

Rajapaksa also told MPs from his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that he would continue to head the party. The president also telephoned Sirise “and discussed the next steps to be taken after the change in the administration”, a media report said. (IANS)

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Ankur Kalita

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