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Gunmen open fire on buses carrying Muslims voters in Sri Lankan election

27th Dec 2019

Harun Nasrullah

Gunmen opened fire on buses carrying Muslims to cast their votes in the Sri Lankan presidential election, won by hard-line former defence official Gotabaya Rajapaksa on November 16.

Attackers also threw stones and blocked more than a hundred vehicles with burning tires. Police officials confirmed the convoy of buses – carrying hundreds of Muslim residents from the north-west town of Puttalam were hit.
“The gunmen opened fire and also pelted stones,” said an official in Tantirimale, 150 miles north of the capital Colombo. “At least two buses were hit, but we have no reports of casualties.”

The Muslim group were travelling to the neighbouring district of Mannar, where they were registered to vote. There were also reports of a heavy military presence and unauthorised roadblocks in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, which is home to the majority of the country’s Tamil population.

There are no reported injuries and officers are investigating, said Manjula Gajanayake, spokesman for the Colombo-based Centre for Monitoring Election Violence. It is unclear whether any of the attackers have been arrested.

The Elections Commission had encouraged Muslims – who fled their homes in the northern district of Mannar in 1982 when the separatist insurgency of Tamil rebels began to grow – to register to vote. However, they had not arranged enough transportation to bring them from their homes in the northwestern district of Puttalam, Gajanayake claimed.

The presidential election comes after 269 people were killed by extremists in a suicide bomb attack on Easter Sunday this year. Sri Lanka’s former wartime defence chief Rajapaksa, part of the country’s most powerful political dynasty, has been elected President, raising fears about the future of human rights and religious harmony in the region.

In his campaign, Rajapaksa cast himself as the only candidate capable of protecting Sri Lankans from attacks. He won over ruling party candidate Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa.

The election of Rajapaksa could be a decisive moment for Sri Lanka. Referred to as “the terminator” by his own family, Rajapaksa is known for his nationalistic and authoritarian leanings and is still facing allegations of corruption and torture.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Council said the election of Rajapaksa was “all our worst fears realised.”Hilmy Ahmed, Vice-President of the Council, said, “Sri Lanka is polarised by this result, and we can see through the votes there is now a clear divide between the Sinhala Buddhist majority and the minorities. It is a huge challenge to see how the country could be united.”

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