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Sri Lanka’s Opposition says no autonomy for Tamils

Jul 30, 2015
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Sri Lanka’s main opposition party Tuesday scrapped a longstanding promise to give greater autonomy to minority Tamils, as it tries to win over hardline sections of the Sinhalese majority before a general election, reports AFP.

In its manifesto launched in Colombo, former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) said it would refuse to grant more powers to a local council in the Tamils’ northern heartland if it won the August 17 election. Before he was toppled in presidential polls in January, Rajapakse had promised to build on a law passed in 1987 giving some autonomy to ethnic Tamils. The law was brokered by neighbouring India to try to end a decades-long conflict between Sri Lanka’s military and Tamil rebels fighting for a separate homeland.

Rajapakse, an ethnic Sinhalese, remains popular among big sections of the island’s largest community for overseeing the defeat of the rebels in 2009. Rajapakse said he was contesting a seat in the upcoming parliamentary poll to ensure Tamil-dominated areas did not slip back into conflict. “Criminal activity has increased in the north… it is becoming a dangerous situation. If things were all right, there would be no need for me to come back and contest elections,” he said at the launch. The manifesto did not say why the party was withdrawing the autonomy promise, but political observers said it was aimed at winning over hardline Sinhalese who oppose power-sharing with Tamils.

Rajapakse’s defeat in January was blamed on allegations of corruption and nepotism during his decade-long rule, as well as a failure to achieve post-war reconciliation. President Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated his one-time mentor, has pledged to bring about reconciliation with Tamils. The UPFA manifesto also pledged to double the minimum wage and give tax-free cars to wide sections of society and extend generous subsidies to farmers.

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