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General who defeated Tamil Tigers launches presidential bid

Sarath Fonseka (pictured), the Sri Lankan general who ended the Tamil Tigers' almost three-decade-long struggle for independence, announced on Sunday that he would challenge the president in a January election.


AFP - The Sri Lankan general who led troops to victory over Tamil separatists after decades of war formally announced on Sunday that he would try to unseat the president in January elections.

Sarath Fonseka declared he would stand against President Mahinda Rajapakse, who claims credit for the defeat of Tamil Tigers in May that ended the island's bloody ethnic conflict.

Fonseka told reporters he would reduce the powers vested in the presidential office and criticised how Rajapakse had run the country.

"If I am elected, I will scrap the executive presidency within six months, hold parliamentary elections and adopt a new constitution that will uphold democracy, social justice and media freedoms," Fonseka told reporters.

He said he was moving into politics because corruption was preventing Sri Lankans from benefiting from the success that military forces had secured while under his command.

"The peace dividend is not being achieved by the people of this country due to corruption, which is at a peak," Fonseka said, adding that the country's two largest opposition parties had persuaded him to run for office.

"Sri Lanka had suffered violence and indignity at the hands of terrorists, but now you can't leave the country in the hands of a tin-pot dictator," he said in reference to the president's all-powerful role.

Fonseka, 58, said he was the "common candidate of the main opposition" after Rajapakse last week called a snap poll on January 26 -- two years ahead of schedule.

The government called the election hoping to take advantage of its popularity following the crushing of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that ended a long and violent separatist campaign.

Fonseka and Rajapakse have been at loggerheads over responsibility for the spectacular military victory. Fonseka retired earlier this month after accusing the government of sidelining him and suspecting him of trying to stage a coup.

The former general said Sunday he was open to an international war crimes probe, in contrast to Rajapakse, who has resisted calls for investigations into allegations of grave human rights violations in the final stages of battle.

"I ran a professional army and there is no reason why there should be no investigations," Fonseka said. "If there are offenders, we will take action. When there is a doubt, it is better to clear it through an investigation."

In another dig at Rajapakse, he accused the government of mistreating Tamil civilians who had sought shelter with troops as fighting raged in the northeast at the beginning of the year.

Fonseka, who in 2006 survived a Tamil Tiger suicide bomb attack, also accused Rajapakse of reducing his security protection.


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