- Title: SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka's main opposition party hold major protest march in Colombo
- Date: 26th July 2007
- Summary: MOTORCADE POSTERS OF SRI LANKAN PRESIDENT MAHINDA RAJAPASKE WITH TAMIL TIGER REBEL LEADER VELUPPILAI PRABHAKARAN OPPOSITION LEADERS LEAD THE MARCHER (SOUNDBITE) (Sinhala) LAKSHMAN SENEVIRATNA SAYING: "We cannot sell our paddy, not even for ten rupees. People have given up farming. People are finding it difficult to make ends meet, some cannot even afford to have one proper meal a day." MORE OF OPPOSITION PROTESTORS (SOUNDBITE) (Sinhala) MALINI BALAPITIYA SAYING: "This country is now full of corruption and people are also living in fear. On top of that we cannot even afford to give milk to our children."
- Embargoed: 10th August 2007 13:00
- Location: Sri Lanka
- Country: Sri Lanka
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVACISNPVDZGG7C8FIEQLXTC7X8F
- Story Text: Tens of thousands of supporters of Sri Lanka's main opposition party rally in Colombo to demand snap elections.
Chanting slogans like "We want a UNP (opposition United National Party) government" and "Save the country from the Rajapaksa brothers", a Reuters witness saw tens of thousands of people gather by a park in central Colombo on Thursday (July 26) to rally against the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and demand elections.
Police said there were 15,000 protesters, while the UNP were expecting 100,000. Given Sri Lanka's polarized political environment, rally strength claims often vary wildly. Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe narrowly lost the presidency to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November 2005 when Tamil Tiger rebels boycotted the poll and blocked residents in areas they control from voting, Rajapaksa's government is now embroiled in a new chapter of the island's two-decade civil war with the rebels with an estimated 4,500 people killed since last year alone.
Wickremesinghe's own party split earlier this year when 17 members, including his deputy, crossed over to the government, helping to give Rajapaksa a long-elusive parliamentary majority.
Wickremesinghe accuses his political nemesis of forging a pact with the separatist Tigers to ruin his presidential election hopes -- a claim the warring foes both deny.
He also accuses Rajapaksa of cronyism. Rajapaksa's three brothers are also in his administration, one appointed as Defence Secretary another as Ports and Aviation Minister and one as an advisor.
Rajapaksa's ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party staged rallies of its own across the island on Thursday in general support of the government, which one senior government official said was timed simply to coincide with the opposition protest and dilute its impact.
Many ordinary Sri Lankans are fed up with inflation which is still near its highest levels in over a decade -- hitting 17 percent in June as measured on a 12-month moving average -- and the impact on their cost of living.
However while Wickremesinghe points to his record of brokering a 2002 peace pact, which broke down on the ground last year after giving the island a near four year respite from war, the Tigers say they do not trust him.
Analysts say the rebels used the ceasefire as a tactic to regroup and rearm, see no clear winner to the war on the horizon and fear a conflict that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983 will rumble on for years.
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