General to fight Sri Lanka poll

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The Independent Online

The Sri Lankan general who oversaw the operation to crush Tamil rebels has formally announced that he will run for the presidency, setting the scene for a bitterly fought contest.

After weeks of speculation, the former army chief Sarath Fonseka said he would run as the candidate of a coalition of opposition parties to take on the current President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a vote that could split the Sinhala Buddhist establishment.

In his first news conference as a politician, Mr Fonseka accused the President of acting as a dictator for failing to return the country to normal after the 25-year war, of hampering the freedom of the media and of being too slow to resettle hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees.

"The peace dividend is not being achieved by the people of this country due to corruption which is at a peak," he said. "Sri Lanka had suffered violence and indignity at the hands of terrorists, but you can't leave the country in the hands of a tin-pot dictator."

Both Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Fonseka won adulation from many Sri Lankans after defeating the last fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the spring of this year. The fighting resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10,000 civilians.