World

2 Sri Lankan town votes show split

Sri Lanka's ruling coalition and a pro-Tamil Tiger party have each scored victories in two municipal elections in towns near the island's recemt battlefields.

Sri Lanka's ruling coalition and a pro-Tamil Tiger party have each scored victories in two municipal elections in towns near the island's recent battlefields.

State television reported Saturday that President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling coalition has captured Jaffna town council, winning 13 of the 23 seats.

But the Tamil National Alliance, seen as a front for the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels, won the largest number of seats on the Vavuniya town council, taking five of 11, while the ruling party won two seats.

The government is expected to use its victory in Jaffna — the heartland of Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils — as an endorsement of its handling of ethnic relations and postwar rehabilitation and as a rejection of separatism.

However, the results do not fully reflect public opinion in the war-battered regions, with fewer than one-third of Jaffna voters and just half of Vavuniya voters casting ballots.

"We have undergone a lot of hardship but we have no solutions to our problems. So we are in no mood to vote. It's not going to make any difference," said G. Selvam, a 52-year-old Jaffna resident, explaining why he stayed away from the polls.

The two towns were frequently hit by violence during the 25-year civil war, which ended in May when the government recaptured the territory and routed the rebels.

Opposition claims campaigns restricted

Opposition parties accused the ruling coalition of restricting their campaigns, and the government barred most media from entering the towns to cover the first local elections held since 1998.

Both Jaffna and Vavuniya remain surrounded by government checkpoints and are accessible only with written permission from the Defence Ministry. Even residents can't leave without permission.

The main opposition United National Party said its representatives had to obtain permission to enter the cities for campaigning.

The government refused permission for most journalists to cover the elections, saying they would have to rely on official statements for their coverage. However, ruling party dignitaries brought reporters along on their campaign trips.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the decision to bar the media "dashes any hope of a transparent election."

An election was also being held in Uva province to the south where ethnic Sinhalese are the majority and appear likely to sweep the council.

With files from The Associated Press