Sri Lanka's president sworn in

2010-11-19 11:39

Colombo - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in on Friday for a second six-year term, but political opponents who accuse him of manipulating the vote to ensure his re-election boycotted the ceremony.

The colourful ceremony, with a military parade and traditional dancing, was held outside the president's office overlooking the Indian Ocean and was televised nationally.

Rajapaksa was re-elected in January in a landslide victory, defeating ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka, who was arrested and imprisoned following the vote.

Sri Lanka's main opposition parties boycotted the ceremony. Opposition United National Party's secretary Tissa Attanayake said the ceremony was "an utter waste of public funds".

"Instead of having this kind of extravaganza, the government should have taken more meaningful steps to bring down the cost of living and give relief to the people," Attanayake said.

The Marxist People's Liberation Front, which backed Fonseka's election, boycotted the ceremony, saying the election results were unacceptable.

"This presidential election was corrupt, and we don't accept its results," said party spokesperson Vijitha Herath.

Opponent arrested

Once allies, Rajapaksa and Fonseka were both considered heroes by the Sinhalese majority for crushing the Tamil rebels last year, ending a quarter-century civil war that killed 80 000 to 100 000 people.

But they fell out months after the war ended and the general quit the army after accusing Rajapaksa of sidelining him, suspecting a military coup. Their relationship further deteriorated after Fonseka challenged Rajapaksa in the presidential election.

Weeks after losing the election, Fonseka was arrested and convicted of fraud. He was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment at hard labour. Another court had stripped him of his rank and military honours for planning a political career while in uniform.

Fonseka has described the cases against him as a political vendetta, and said they were launched to persecute him for daring to challenge Rajapaksa in the presidential election.

Despite opposition protest, Rajapaksa is still very popular among the country's Sinhalese majority for ending the 25-year civil war. But critics say he has exploited that goodwill to consolidate power with the aim of setting up a family dynasty. One brother is the speaker of parliament; one is a senior minister, and another is defence secretary. His son is a lawmaker.

In September, Rajapaksa's ruling coalition passed an amendment to the constitution to eliminate term limits for the presidency. Critics said the move could lead to a dictatorship.

The amendment also tightened Rajapaksa's hold on power by giving him total control over the judiciary, police, public service and the elections office.